HORNBROOK, Calif. – Not a peep can be heard from the Hornbrook Volunteer Fire Department as its six staff members have resigned to their normal jobs.
“It’s disturbing, it’s heartbreaking,” said Assistant Volunteer Fire Chief Lee Buckley. “I hate to see the community suffer because of these safety concerns.”
Those concerns led the force to vote off teammate Roger Gifford, a volunteer who also happens to be a member of the department’s board of directors. Buckley says Gifford encouraged the team to resist law enforcement, secretly video-taped other volunteers, and made frequent racist and sexist remarks.
Those actions, he says, eroded trust among the team.
“When you’re advancing into a burning structure or pulling a patient out of a car, we have to have that trust,” said Buckley. “If you don’t have that trust, you don’t need to be there.”
But that vote was shot down from department’s Board of Directors – which argued in a statement that investigations into misconduct should be handled internally.
When pressured to reinstate Gifford, Buckley and his team walked away.
“We operate as a team,” said Buckley. “It’s kind of like a brotherhood, we’re one big family.”
But even without that family, Hornbrook residents aren’t entirely on their own. CAL FIRE already aids the department for everything within Hornbrook borders thanks to an automatic aid agreement.
Now, instead of the department’s six volunteers, they’ll lean on neighboring agencies.
“It’s going to increase response time for those additional resources. It’s not going to do anything to our response time though,” said CAL FIRE Shasta Valley Battalion Chief Daryll Laws.
Buckley says while residents are in good hands, he hopes that plan-B situation can end soon.
But he says his team won’t come back until they know they’re working with people they can trust.
“If you have been in the fire service you’d understand where we’re coming from,” said Buckley. “Safety is our top priority.”