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Porterdale fire chief being investigated

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

PORTERDALE -- An investigation into claims of improper behavior on the part of Porterdale Fire Chief Ronald Savage is under way but likely won't be completed for at least another week.

The investigation, which was initially placed in the hands of City Manager Bob Thomson, has been turned over to Police Chief Geoff Jacobs.

"The City Council and I decided since (Chief Jacobs) has investigative skills he could do a more thorough job, because I have other responsibilities as well," Thomson said last week.

Jacobs said he is looking into the claims, primarily made by one former volunteer fireman who claimed he was improperly dismissed and who has since begun the process to move to another department.

"There are a lot of people to interview," Jacobs said, adding that he will be in training for the next several days and unable to complete the investigation until after that time.

Mayor Bobby Hamby last month downplayed the complaints against the chief, saying that a couple of firemen within the department had "personal issues with the fire chief."

"They have brought up a couple of issues that need to be straightened out," he said.

Hamby said some of the problems stem from the fact that two volunteer departments actually operate out of the city's fire station -- the Porterdale Fire Department, a volunteer organization, and the incorporated volunteer fire department.

"A lot of what they are bringing up is under the corporation," Hamby said.

Hamby said volunteers for the city department and the incorporated department are the same people, "but basically they formed the corporation so they could sign a contract with Newton County so they could provide fire protection in the unincorporated part of Newton County."

The fire station belongs to the city, while ownership of the equipment is divided among the city, county and corporation.

"The city owns part of it and the corporation owns some of it, and the stuff that was bought after a certain time, all of that actually belongs to the county," Hamby said.

Firefighters who volunteer within the Porterdale city limits receive a small stipend for answering calls and for training, Hamby said. The stipends generally total a couple hundred dollars a year per firefighter.

"The claims against the chief generally deal with improper dismissal of the firefighter and "some questions about items that were paid for through the corporation, the corporation's checkbook, so the (firefighter) has asked for open records requests," Jacobs said.

Newton County Fire Service Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said he is aware of the investigation but has not been asked to participate in any way.

Satterfield said the county provides funding for the Porterdale Fire Department through tax funds collected through special tax districts.

"We fund their needs for their truck, their fuel, their equipment, those types of things," Satterfield said, "and we use the county's purchasing policy for those things."

However, the Porterdale Fire Department remains independent in terms of guidelines and regulations.

"Porterdale is an independent fire station," Satterfield said. "They wanted to maintain their own department name and stature for their city and so ... we've dealt with that OK. We still control the funds. We don't allow those to be spent without county permission, and it has to go through the normal county (purchasing) process."

Satterfield added that the firefighter who filed a complaint against Chief Savage has since asked to move to another volunteer fire department, along with three other Porterdale volunteers. Satterfield said training is under way to make those moves possible.

Attempts to contact Savage for this story were unsuccessful.