Fire station conflict leads to dual resignation

Last updated 09:36 11/12/2012

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Accusations are flying between the former chief and deputy chief of Titahi Bay Volunteer Fire Brigade, who have both resigned their posts due to a relationship breakdown.

Tony Leighton, who was chief for 31 years, and his deputy Brian Gardiner both resigned in September after brigade volunteers gave a vote of no confidence in either of them due to their mutual hostility. Between two and four other volunteers have resigned after being caught up in the clash.

The first shot was fired in April this year, when Mr Leighton complained to the Fire Service about Mr Gardiner's behaviour. He claims Mr Gardiner had driven two volunteers to quit after questioning their skills and decision-making. Mr Gardiner denies this. The Fire Service began investigating the ructions.

Mr Gardiner claims Mr Leighton drove fire engines dangerously and mismanaged funds. Mr Leighton claims Mr Gardiner did not follow protocol at fire scenes. Each denies the other's allegations.

Mr Gardiner declined to discuss the matter with Kapi-Mana News but said two volunteers had quit because of Mr Leighton's management.

Mr Leighton believes the accusations against him were designed by Mr Gardiner to deflect attention from his own poor behaviour.

The dangerous driving accusation related to a snap decision at the Main Rd-Kura St intersection, when the two men were driving different fire engines in March, Mr Leighton said. "It was a 50/50 call."

The financial mismanagement accusation related to donations made by volunteer firefighters who stay overnight at the station.

Mr Leighton said he used the money for power bills, tea and coffee and upkeep of the station. Public donations were used according to donors' wishes, for example, $10 given for volunteers to put on the bar would be put on the bar, he said.

In 2009 the Fire Service required all donations to be banked, but Mr Leighton said he did not begin doing this until 18 months ago, because he wasn't aware of the rule change.

Fire Service assistant national commander Ian Pickard said there is no way to prove how donations to the brigade were spent before mid-2011.

He had not heard of Mr Leighton's allegation that Mr Gardiner behaved improperly at a fire scene, and says the driving incident was a one-off that has been dealt with.

The only way the brigade could move on was to install fresh management, Mr Pickard said.

"There was too much conflict and it was splitting the brigade.

"It very quickly became a 'he said, he said' situation within the brigade and it started growing legs."

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It's a shame the men could not work out their differences, he said.

"It's really sad. It affects the community."

Fire Service assistant area manager Gavin Dunphy will be in charge of the station until new management is installed early next year, Mr Pickard said.

- Kapi-Mana News


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