NC fire captain appealing suspension for unapproved mutual aid response

The captain is accused of deserting by leaving the engine's assigned area without permission, but said he turned back when he heard the aid was denied


Bruce Henderson
The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A veteran Charlotte firefighter is appealing his two-day unpaid suspension for responding to a fire outside Mecklenburg County and his case offers a rare glimpse into the workings of the Civil Service Board.

The case is unusual because Capt. Ryan Pope’s appeal is being heard in public, unlike most cases before the board. It was opened at Pope’s request.

A Charlotte fire captain is appealing his suspension for allegedly deserting his post by crossing county lines preparing to respond to a mutual aid call that was later denied. (Photo/Charlotte Fire Station #23 Facebook)
A Charlotte fire captain is appealing his suspension for allegedly deserting his post by crossing county lines preparing to respond to a mutual aid call that was later denied. (Photo/Charlotte Fire Station #23 Facebook)

Pope was leading a four-member engine crew at the Charlotte Fire Department’s Station 23, on Harris Boulevard in east Charlotte, when the incident occurred in February 2019. Two members of the crew worked as part-time or volunteer firefighters in Stanly County, according to testimony Thursday morning in front of the Civil Service Board.

Crew members testified that they heard a commander of the West Stanley Fire Department radio asking for help from Station 23 to fight a large house fire. They jumped into their engine and raced up Albemarle Road toward the fire, initially with emergency lights and siren on.

The problem, as department officials view it, is that the response hadn’t been approved by Charlotte’s chain of command. Witnesses testified and tracking data showed that the engine was in Cabarrus County before it got word that Charlotte officials had denied the mutual aid request.

A ladder truck from Station 23 also responded to the Stanly County fire but stopped at the Mecklenburg County line, witnesses said Thursday.

The department said Pope violated rules against “deserting his post” by leaving his engine’s assigned area without the permission of department commanders.

“A captain cannot approve taking city-owned resources outside the county, much less two counties, to respond to a simple house fire,” the battalion chief who investigated the incident testified Thursday. Engine 23 was outside Mecklenburg County for about 27 minutes, according to testimony.

Pope’s defense, according to papers filed in the case, is that he had assumed Charlotte commanders would grant the request and continued toward the fire “such that there would be minimal delay in providing assistance.”

It’s been the “consistent practice” of the Charlotte Fire Department to quickly approve such requests, Pope maintains in documents, and firefighters have been encouraged to move toward calls for help before they were officially approved.

But it took longer than usual to communicate the decision, the papers say. Pope’s crew was across the Mecklenburg line into Cabarrus County, at a volunteer fire department in Midland, before learning that aid had been denied. He had the engine turn back to Charlotte.

The Civil Service Board is charged with evaluating prospective hires and promotions at both the Charlotte Fire and Police departments, as well as holding hearings for personnel who appeal terminations or reprimands.

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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