GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The North Carolina Chief State Fire Marshal says the Stanley Fire Department has fire protection, but his office has received a complaint and will be doing an audit to find out if they have adequate staffing in the wake of the top two fire officials’ jobs being eliminated and dozens of firefighters leaving the department in response.

Blindsided. That’s how the former deputy chief at the Stanley Fire Department says he feels after finding out his job was eliminated in the Town of Stanley. On Thursday, Queen City News got to speak with the former top fire official.

QCN discovered Michael Hullet found out he was let go in an email sent from the town clerk. The email said the town had decided to reorganize public safety, and he could come to the fire department and ‘get his things.’

Hullet said he was immediately locked out of his email, and he and the former fire chief were out of jobs. All the accolades don’t compare to what’s in Hullett’s heart.

“That’s the solidarity that you can’t explain. That support means a lot,” said Hullett.

Up until three days ago, Hullett was deputy fire chief at the Stanley Fire Department.

“Monday night was a shock to everybody. I don’t think anyone seen that coming,” said Hullett.

After nine years, one as a volunteer and eight as deputy fire chief, Hullett’s job was eliminated.

“What hurts me, phew, is I feel I let the guys and girls of the fire department down; that’s what hurts, that you did everything for them and the town, and that’s the thanks you get,” said Hullett.

“Do you still consider the mayor a friend?” asked Queen City News Anchor Robin Kanady to Hullett.

“No. No. Friends don’t do this to each other,” answered Hullett.

He says he was not even told he was fired; he was just told how he could pack up his things. The same happened to former Fire Chief Eric Withers.

“It’s not that we’re upset because they did us wrong or they fired us, it’s more about the way it was done, super unprofessional; it’s not the way you handle business,” said Hullett.

Hullett says Monday night Stanley Town Council, out of nowhere, voted to restructure the fire department, moving from one part-time fire chief and one part-time deputy fire chief to a full-time fire chief.

In response, dozens of firefighters have walked off the job to support their former leaders.

“They’re not quitting on the town. The town administrators quit on them,” said Hullett.

Hullett says for years he has been emailing and asking the town for funding for full-time firefighting positions, and the town manager, mayor, and council all shut him down, keeping the fire department understaffed.

“I’m in fear for the town that we’re not properly protected. I live here; I live in this town,” said Hullett.

He’s worried about the town, especially now, not having enough firefighters and what that might mean for emergency response.

“It’s scary and it’s harmful and it’s hurtful and the blood is on their hands when it happens unfortunately,” said Hullett.

The Town of Stanley now has an interim fire chief and a public safety director.

For two days now, Queen City News has been calling and emailing the town manager and the mayor, getting very limited responses and only from the town manager.

The Office of the State Fire Marshall released the following statement Friday:

“The Office of the State Fire Marshal is aware and has taken several phone calls and emails on the situation at Stanley. We have heard that the numbers are below 10 members at this point, but we have not verified that information in person.

The department is a single station and requires a minimum of 15 eligible firefighters. (“Eligible Firefighter” means all persons 18 years of age or older who are firefighters as defined by NC law (G.S. 58-86-2).

If it is found that the department is below 15 eligible firefighters, the department would be placed in non-compliance for a 6-month period. If after that time has passed and the issues that were found during our visit are not corrected, the department will go on a 6-month probation. 

If after that time all issues are not corrected properly, then the Insurance rating would be reassigned as a Class 10 rating, which is considered unrecognized.”