Catawba Co. tells Hickory and Newton Rescue Squads to shut down

NEWTON, NC (WBTV) - Two long-time rescue squads in Catawba County have been told to cease operations come June 30.

The Newton squad is shutting down, say county officials, because similar services are already offered by nearby fire departments. The Hickory Rescue Squad shutdown is a different matter.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, the county cited questions about fees paid for financial services to a board member and claimed, in the release, that the county had received "Allegations of mismanagement."

Hickory Rescue Board President Allen Biggerstaff says those claims are false.

"There has been no mismanagement of money," he said.

Biggerstaff questioned why the county would claim that without ever coming to the board with the concerns and not even mentioning it in the letter he received a week before informing the squad that the contract for rescue services would not be renewed.

"They never told us anything," he said.

Late Tuesday, the county released emails between Rescue Squad Chief Cameron Gardin and county officials where Gardin expressed concerns about how finances were being handled and how much money was being paid for a board member for CPA services.

County officials told WBTV they did not know if an investigation is underway but said more information would be released in the coming days.

People in the community were concerned that the closing could have an adverse effect on response time in the area.

"The rescue squad is very important to us," said Selena Speagle, whose nephew was pulled from a 40-foot deep well by the squad in 2011. "They were amazing."

Officials said plans are being drawn up so other departments in the area could cover the Hickory Rescue Squad's district. The closing of the two rescue squads is set to take effect June 30.

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