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Oxford fire chief resigns

OXFORD - The fire chief from the City of Oxford's volunteer fire department has resigned over a conflict with the mayor.

Chief Jason Stribling turned in his official resignation letter at Monday's Oxford City Council meeting after previously informing some council members of his decision to step down.

"I didn't want to leave, but they weren't listening to me," Stribling said Tuesday.

He said his frustration with the city started when Mayor Jerry Roseberry took office in January and later required the department to not use red lights and sirens on their vehicles, reduce station times and cut back training to once per week.

"The reason for my untimely resignation is due to the constant distrust the mayor has in myself and my department," reads the resignation letter from Stribling, who has been an Oxford volunteer firefighter for more than three years. "During the last nine months, the mayor has taken it upon himself to operate the fire department."

Stribling said he feels the department is being "undermined" by the mayor, who now requests the Newton County Fire Service be dispatched to calls with the Oxford fire department.

"The county has offered to provide 24/7 coverage, and the citizens of Oxford deserve the best coverage we can provide," Roseberry said Tuesday, adding that he knows volunteers can't provide the same service as the county fire department.

Stribling said his department has never missed a call since he took over as chief and often makes it to the scene before the Newton County Fire Service does, averaging about a five minute response time over the last few years.

"During my tenure as chief, we have built the department from nine personnel to 23. ... We have instituted a duty officer program leaving at least one officer in charge of every call that happens inside the city. We have built a training program that has put on two rookie schools, certifying all members in Basic Firefighter and National Professional Qualifications 1 certification," reads Stribling's resignation letter. "We have instituted a station time program where the all-Volunteer Oxford Fire Department staffed the fire department with personnel on their own time at no cost to the city in order to decrease the response times to calls."

Stribling said because of the mayor's recent changes to the department, as well as the mayor expressing displeasure in certain response times, he decided to resign.

Roseberry said he was "sorry" Stribling felt like he had to resign, as it was not his intention for that to occur.

"I did institute strict management ... but that's my responsibility," the mayor said.

The department will pick a replacement chief. For now, the city has made no decision on whether to disband the Oxford Fire Department, Roseberry said. He said Newton County Fire Service will be dispatched to all calls in the city, and Oxford's volunteer firefighters can still respond - whichever team makes it first will handle the call, while the other team will provide backup.

Oxford Volunteer Firefighter Anthony Cofield said he and the other volunteers plan to respond when they hear a call from their own radios or otherwise.

"We enjoy doing our job, and I think we do it well," Cofield said. "We're there for (the citizens of Oxford) and not for ourselves."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.