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Charlotte’s city council votes against resolution to bring its volunteer firefighters back

The volunteer firefighters resigned during a City Council meeting March 21.
Courtesy / Charlotte Fire Department
The volunteer firefighters resigned during a City Council meeting March 21.

Charlotte’s fire department remains without most of its firefighters after a mass resignation last week.

The City Council failed to approve a resolution to bring them back at Monday's meeting.

All 23 volunteer firefighters had resigned citing long-time communication concerns between city officials and the department.

The fire department chief also resigned shortly after.

At a special city council meeting Monday evening, firefighter Ron Smith urged council members to vote in favor of a resolution to bring the volunteer firefighters back.

"To all the council members who reached out to listen to us, we thank you, we are sorry that we did not come to you and give you the opportunity to help before we took the drastic step we did," he said.

"From this difficult series of events, we have uncovered a few new ways to resolve conflicts with the city. It will keep any issues from festering to this level ever again."

Charlotte Mayor Mike Armitage said he would like to invite the firefighters to return, but that decision falls under the authority of the city manager.

“Many people were probably hoping for a resolution tonight, and I think over the next week, we’ll see the city manager continue to work toward that resolution whatever it may be," he said.

Charlotte resident Zack Story was one of dozens of residents who spoke during public comment asking the city council to resolve the issue with the volunteer firefighters.

"I have no confidence in the mayor anymore. I have no confidence in this council. I actually for the first time in my life feel unsafe in my hometown, and that disgusts me," he added.

City Manager Erin LaPere says she was blindsided by the volunteers' mass resignation.

"I was aware of some of the issues that have been going on. Some of them predate me, some of them are while I've been here, I was not given any reason to believe from the chief that there were such morale issues, that there was some sort of eminent walkout going to occur," she said.

"So, that's something that I can learn from moving forward of how to engage better with my department heads, so that I have a better sense of what's going on within the department."

Despite pressure from Charlotte residents to approve a resolution during the meeting Monday, LaPere said she wasn't prepared to make a public announcement on a resolution.

"I recognize that there is a need for expediency here that we can't just wait forever. So, I do anticipate that I will be speaking with the chief and working towards a resolution quickly," she added.

Chris Smith, a volunteer firefighter, said he was disappointed with the response from city officials.

"I am unhappy with the decision to end the meeting without a resolution that puts fire service back," he said.

LaPere hopes to reach an agreement with the volunteer team before next week’s city council meeting.

Charlotte continues to work with neighboring agencies to help respond to fire emergencies until an agreement with the firefighters can be reached.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community. Michelle is also the voice of WKAR's weekend news programs.