Volunteer fire department looking to move past issues after several firefighters walk off job

Tensions high after 13 firefighters quit

BESSEMER CITY, NC (WBTV) - Dozens of people packed a meeting room in the Agriculture Center Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday night. The department held its annual community meeting in Bessemer City and some people were unhappy with what recently transpired at the department.

In June, word spread through social media that 13 firefighters had left the department at the same time. They were unhappy with decisions being made by the board that oversees the fire department, according to Genie Hyman, the former secretary of the board.

Hyman said that the board's recent decision to do away with the department's chief, Matt Kanupp, spurred some of the volunteers to leave the department. She said 13 different firefighters chose to leave the agency. Hyman joined them in leaving the organization, abandoning her post as the board's secretary.

"The board decided that they were not going to let the firemen have any say-so in who would be chief," explained Hyman.

She shared messages about what was happening on Facebook and included pictures of the gear that was turned in by firefighters that had chosen to leave the department. The former board secretary has grown critical of the department's governing body.

"We have no leadership because the chairman of the board wouldn't listen to anything," explained Hyman.

WBTV spoke to the board chairman, Ray Cloninger, in an interview after Tuesday night's meeting. Cloninger said he is ready to move past the trouble that has fallen upon the department.

"We'll get it back together. I'm not worried about it. We'll all be friends. We'll all be good neighbors and it will all work out," explained Cloninger.

The board chairman said the departure of 13 volunteers hasn't affected the service provided to the communities in the department's district. He said the agency still has more than 30 volunteers who are able to respond to calls.

"That was their option. They didn't like that we got a new fire chief but on the other hand we've got 34 (firefighters) that stayed," said Cloninger about the firefighters that left.

The department's deputy chief, Matt Wilkinson, said the departures are something the agency will have to work through.

"We lost some good firemen," said Wilkinson. "There were some guys that were my friends and I hate that, but we gotta push forward we gotta do what's right for the community."

The Bessemer City residents and firefighters who were present at Tuesday night's meeting voted on candidates for four seats that were available on the board.

Shane Towery is set to take the reigns as the new chief of the department. Neither Towery nor Kanupp were in attendance at Tuesday's meeting.

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