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Charlotte Fire Department volunteers return to duty after mass resignation

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

Charlotte’s volunteer firefighters are back on call after resigning last month.

Two weeks ago, all 23 volunteer firefighters resigned, citing communication concerns between the department and city leaders. Earlier that same day, Charlotte’s fire chief had given his two-week notice.

At a city council meeting Monday evening, Charlotte residents and firefighters urged the council to approve a resolution to bring the volunteers back without a reapplication process.

According to a letter from city attorney Thomas Hitch, the city charter prohibited hiring the volunteers back without making them reapply for their positions.

"The City of Charlotte, like other employers with more than 15 full-time employees are subject to the terms of the Equal Opportunity Employment Act of 1972. Under that Act, the city cannot engage in employment activities without making such employment widely available to the public at large," Hitch stated in the letter.

City Manager Erin LaPere concurred with Hitch.

"As I understand the existing policies, [firefighters] would have had to apply, they would have had to go through the process of having a driver's license and background check, and those policies have been in effect since 2009," LaPere added during the meeting.

However, after several hours of discussion between the firefighters and council members, the council agreed the power to rehire the firefighters ultimately belonged to the volunteers' leader and the fire chief.

Ron Smith, the head of the volunteers, said the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department is its own non-profit entity set up that way in the city charter.

"We are our own organization with our own constitution and bylaws, and up until recently the chief of the volunteer organization has also been the chief of the fire department as well," Smith said. "And we did not resign [from] our positions within the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department. We came to the city and said, 'We're resigning from our duties because we've tried to address issues, and we didn't get a response.'"

To expedite the volunteers' return, the council swore in Mark Jordan as interim chief a day early. His position wasn't expected to begin until Tuesday.

“As newly appointed chief of the Charlotte Fire Department, I recognize that the Charlotte Volunteer Fire Department, all the members, are in good standing and there’s no reason why they can’t respond to calls," Jordan said after being sworn in as new interim chief.

During the meeting, the volunteers voted to return to duty that evening. Smith said he's hopeful the relationship between city leaders, including Mayor Michael Armitage, and the department can be mended.

"I appreciate that, Mayor, you’ve said sorry for your actions in the past, and we as the volunteers are truly sorry that it came to what it did," he added.

For the sake of consistency, Smith said, the volunteers are likely to elect Jordan as the volunteer's leader at their meeting Wednesday.

Council members also said they're committed to attending fire department meetings regularly and keeping communication channels open between them.