SC fire chief suspended after racially insensitive Facebook post

McDonald Green Volunteer Fire Department Chief Francis Ghent's post suggested police should stop responding to Black neighborhoods


Andrew Dys
The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. — A South Carolina volunteer fire chief has been suspended for two weeks after he posted an insensitive racial message on Facebook that asked police to stop responding to Black neighborhoods, officials said.

Francis "Butch" Ghent, fire chief at the McDonald Green Volunteer Fire Department in Lancaster County, posted the statement April 22 on his personal Facebook page. It read: " Dear Police, stop responding to these black neighborhoods. They will eventually kill each other and the fake news won't have a story."

Ghent was suspended Wednesday around noon by the leadership at the department, according to a written statement from the department sent to Lancaster County officials.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis forwarded the statement to The Herald.

The statement from McDonald Green Department President Mark Rallings said the administration of the department suspended Ghent of all duties as chief and firefighter as the department conducts an internal investigation.

"It was the determination of these members to place Chief Ghent on administrative leave," Rallings said.

Ghent can have no dealings with the department during the two weeks, Rallings said.

Ghent issued a written apology to Lancaster County officials Tuesday. Ghent also apologized on camera to WBTV, The Herald's news partner, and WSOC-TV.

McDonald Green is an all volunteer department, according to Lancaster County officials and the county Web site. The department has its own leadership and firefighters there are not county employees. County officials said they have no authority to discipline Ghent, although county leaders including Lancaster County Council issued a statement condemning the post as offensive.

Photos of department members posted online show at least two members of the department are African-American.

Charles J. Addison, assistant chief at McDonald Green, was named acting chief during Ghent's suspension.

Ghent a longtime volunteer

Ghent has four decades with the fire service in Lancaster County, officials said. In 2020 he was chairman of the Lancaster County Fire Commission, a governing board for volunteer departments.

Volunteer firefighters in Lancaster County have South Carolina training certifications but are not governed by the state firefighters association, officials said. Individual departments handle personnel matters and decide matters of leadership and membership, county officials said.

It remains unclear if the full membership of the McDonald Green department will meet to discuss Ghent's post, apology, and any potential further actions.

The apology

Ghent on Tuesday afternoon issued a written apology to Lancaster County fire service and county officials. The apology stated that Ghent was going after the news media after a fatal police shooting in Ohio.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis confirmed the apology came from Ghent and released the apology to The Herald.

In the apology, Ghent said he realizes he offended Black people in Lancaster and across the country with the post and asks the Black community of Lancaster County to forgive his mistake.

The apology statement said:

"I would like to apologize to the black community of Lancaster and through out the country. The post I made on Facebook was not meant to be an attack you but rather a jab at the news media.

The apology further stated: "My father instilled in me that the police were to be respected and honored not matter what. The media has done everything they can to demonize them to get a story and ratings. After the police shot and killed the teenage girl trying to kill another girl the media said he went to far. But if he had let her kill the other girl then they would have said he should have done more. The police can't win in these violent confrontations. I lost it and made that post. The wording was very inappropriate but anger blinded my judgment.

"I would also like to apologize to my family, fire department, Lancaster County Fire Service and the leaders of Lancaster County. I hope that my actions haven't put you in harms way. I have served the residents of Lancaster County for over 40 years. I don't see color in the residents that I serve. I help whomever calls with dignity and respect. I have many black friends and neighbors that I more than likely have offended. I am truly sorry.

"I made a mistake and am very sorry for it. I again ask for your forgiveness."

The way police interact with African-American people has become a crisis in America after several Black people have been shot and killed by law enforcement. On April 20, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd.

Since then, the Ohio teenage girl was shot, and a Black man in Pasquotank County, N.C., was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies near Elizabeth City south of Virginia Beach, Va.

Those incidents have received international attention from people supporting equitable treatment of people of color by police and media from around the world.

Lancaster County Council statement

The Lancaster County Council issued the following statement about Ghent's Facebook post:

"On Monday April 26th, Lancaster County became aware of an offensive social media post by a volunteer firefighter serving an independent fire department. Lancaster County Council and Lancaster County strongly condemn the social media post as its contents are contrary to the values and beliefs of Lancaster County government. The County has received questions about potential disciplinary or personnel action.

"Volunteer firefighters in Lancaster County are not employees or volunteers of Lancaster County but instead are members of their independent volunteer fire departments. Accordingly, the County cannot take any disciplinary action. However, Lancaster County and County Council take this matter very seriously and urge the fire department to address the matter."

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(c)2021 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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