GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A Gaston County volunteer fire department that protects thousands of people who live south of Belmont is majorly short-staffed after six firefighters abruptly left station.
Six South Point firefighters walked out after the board that oversees the department dismissed two firefighters on Thursday.
Those firemen think the board retaliated because they said they spoke out about the need for more radios and updated medical and rescue equipment.
Channel 9 called the board president to ask for a response to the serious accusations, but he said he can't make any statements yet.
Channel 9 learned that other busy fire departments are being asked to help pick up the South Point Fire Department's calls for help.
"The citizens of that area, I'm sure they're concerned, because any time you lose the amount of volunteers that South Point has lost, it can definitely hamper fire protection," said Earl Withers, the president of the Gaston County Firefighters Association.
Many of the volunteer firefighters who responded to all of the department's calls at night and on the weekends left.
Withers said the association is monitoring the concerning situation and working to make sure nearby families remain safe.
"The surrounding departments will be able to backfill with volunteers to help with any type of emergency in that area right now," Withers said.
Most of the burden will fall onto Belmont's Fire Department.
Ronnie Worley, the county commissioner who represents the area, hopes the changes won't take emergency crews longer to respond.
"Even with what sounds like a large number of personnel being away from the fire department," Worley said. "I don't expect response times to change."
It could take months for the department to recruit another eight firefighters. If more firefighters sign on, it would take at least another four months for them to get them certified.
The firefighters who left the department said they would return to work if they are given the resources and support they need.
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