By Mike Ellis, Anderson Independent Mail, S.C.
Jan. 15–Starr Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gary Shaw has been suspended for 90 days for allowing his firefighters to portray Santa in a town parade while riding on the back of a red flatbed pickup truck, instead of in the cab as the county requires.
Shaw may not be able to run for chief during his department’s annual election, his brother Larry Shaw said.
The volunteer fire department firefighters met Friday, the day the suspension was handed down, and voted to indefinitely delay the scheduled election for chief, which had been set for Jan. 23.
County rules require firefighters to elect a chief in January or February, but a quorum, or minimum number of serving volunteers, has to be present for the vote to happen.
Firefighters from the station were supportive of Gary Shaw during the Friday community meeting and some indicated they would not participate in a vote while he was suspended.
Gary Shaw said he has spoken to an attorney who advised him not to comment while he pursues options for lifting the suspension.
Anderson County Fire Protection Commission Chairman Glenn Holliday confirmed the suspension, which also applies to department Captain Russ Hawkins, who portrayed Santa, and to the chief’s son, firefighter Reese Shaw, who was driving.
“It’s a county rule,” Holliday said. “He (Gary Shaw) violated a rule. It’s necessary and it’s important and came on the advice of our insurance company. Everyone knows it’s a long way from a fire truck to the ground.”
The county volunteer firefighter conduct rules addresses special events and forbids firefighters or family members from riding on top of or on the front of fire trucks. The station chief can be suspended for 90 days for a violation.
Last year, Sandy Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Brown was suspended for 30 days for allowing his firefighters to ride on a fire truck during a parade.
Holliday said the policies have been in place for about three years and chiefs should be aware of the restrictions, which are made for safety reasons.
“The safety issue is personally my concern,” he said. “I’ll stand by that rule rather than have to go to a family and say you have a child that got hurt because they were riding a fire truck.”
Holliday said he grew up on a dairy farm, riding on top of a hay wagon, and said he knows that even while driving at a few miles an hour, a small bump can send someone flying.
Holliday and Shaw have different views of the truck, a Dodge flatbed pickup truck, that was used to ferry Santa.
The truck had no insignia or markings on it, Larry Shaw said, and was a recent purchase. It did, however, have a banner wishing a Merry Christmas with the Starr Volunteer Fire Department name.
Larry Shaw said the truck belongs to the volunteer fire department, was bought without county money and it had not been insured by the county system at the time of the December parade. The title to the used truck, he said, was not yet signed by anyone at the fire department so the department did not actually own the truck.
Holliday said any equipment belonging to a volunteer fire department, even if bought without county money, is part of the county insurance plan.
“If it belongs to the station, it’s insured by us,” he said.
Holliday said anything owned by volunteer stations would be under the county’s insurance plan and he said documents from the Starr department indicate that the volunteer department had purchased the truck and it was covered by county insurance.
Holliday said that if Starr firefighters or others could produce documents to show that the truck had no connections to the volunteer department or the county system, he would push commissioners to re-evaulate the suspension.
Richard Kelly contributed to this story.
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