INGALLS — An online picture of his girlfriend’s pose with a hose is an example of the horseplay that cost the town fire chief his job, a council member said.

Town Council members Monday voted 3-1 to fire Fire Chief Josh Benson, citing concerns about horseplay at the fire station that he failed to address. Councilwoman Cheryl Martin voted against the motion, because she did not believe the council had the right to fire the chief of a volunteer department.

The council majority said the firing was valid, because Benson was the head of a town department and compensated by the town.

The council’s concerns culminated about a week ago when town officials found sexually suggestive pictures posted on Benson’s online MySpace page, council member Rick Corbin said.

MySpace pictures showed his girlfriend fully clothed, dressed in firefighter pants and making suggestive poses with a fire truck and fire hose. The pictures’ captions were also suggestive.

Council members also had concerns about teens using the fire station as a hangout and party place.

“It’s not a play house; it’s a professional fire place,” Corbin said. “He just wasn’t in control of his personnel.”

The department has a lot of young volunteers who have girlfriends and kids who are frequently at the station goofing off, Councilman Tim Green said.

People playing at the station is a safety and liability issue, Corbin said.

For instance, a volunteer’s girlfriend was recently injured at the station. The volunteer chased her around the station, and she tripped on her sandals and sprained her ankle, Corbin said.

The council is worried she will file a tort claim against Ingalls so the town will have to pay her ambulance and medical bills, Green said.

Council members made a list of suggested improvements for the department, and not a single suggestion was followed, council member Tim Green said. They told Benson to stop the horseplay and hanging out at the station.

Councilwoman Joye Orr visited the station about three days after Benson was given the list, and conditions were worse instead of better, Green said.

The chief’s girlfriend was sitting behind the chief’s desk, using her computer and smoking, which is prohibited in town buildings, Green said. Her dog and daughter were running around the station as well, Green said. Orr refused to comment about the issue.

Council members made another offer to speak with Benson, Green said. His response was a letter laid on the council table before its Monday meeting.

In the letter, Benson said he, not the council, would say what was tolerable and allowable at the fire station. And he said firefighters were not allowed to report any incidents to town officials without him present.

Most council members considered the letter a slap in the face and insubordination, Green said. Council members gave him several chances to make changes within the department, but he refused to make those changes and gave up his last chance to speak with the council about the issues, Green said.

Benson was not available for comment.

Interim Fire Chief Dan Robnolte has said that allegations against the department are not true and that the council is blowing things out of proportion.

His wife sometimes visits him at the station, and firefighters sometimes have their girlfriends visit, but this is allowed, and should be permitted, he said.

The town attorney did not return phone calls by deadline Tuesday.

Firefighters were visibly upset after hearing the Town Council fire their chief.

Firefighter Josh Caudill left the meeting, went next door to the station and tossed his fire equipment to the sidewalk. He criticized the council for their actions.

The volunteers at the department are responsible for voting in the chief and voting him out, not the council, he said. He questioned the council’s reasons for wanting Benson gone.

“We want to know why,” he said at the meeting. “We think it’s a personal vendetta.”

Green was quick to defend the council’s decision.

“If you want to say it’s a personal vendetta, you’re wrong,” he said. “I like the guy.”


Ingalls Fire: Who’s in charge now?

Assistant Fire Chief Dan Robnolte is taking over as interim chief until volunteers vote on a permanent replacement for Josh Benson, who was fired by the Town Council Monday.

NOTE: Robnolte initially refused to become interim fire chief because of his frustration with the situation, but changed his mind, citing concerns over the town’s fire safety.

The Town Council fired the chief: Was it legal?

Precedent would say yes. The Ingalls Town Council has fired fire chiefs in the past.

NOTE: Town Council member Cheryl Martin voted against firing former Fire Chief Josh Benson, saying she did not think the town had the legal right to fire a chief of a volunteer department.

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