• Former fire investigator says she was fired for raising safety concerns

    By: Allison Latos

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For the past 4 1/2 years, Crystal Eschert worked as a fire investigator with the Charlotte Fire Department.
     
    As recently as 3 1/2 months ago, she received a positive job review, commending her for, among other things, her positive attitude and for being dependable.
     
    The performance review stated, “Investigator Eschert has established herself as a credible source within the fire investigation community."
     
    But days after the review, Eschert raised concerns about a building on North Graham Street, where fire investigators are being moved.
     
    The building is under renovation, but Eschert said she was concerned about the conditions and about the fact that some fire employees were already using the space.
     
    “There was an elevator that went from the basement up and it was wooden. And when we went in the spring, it didn't want to work too well. So we had to jump to make it function,” Eschert said.
     
    Eschert started snapping pictures documenting the conditions, including soaked and crumbling ceiling tiles.
     
    “The type of work that we do, security is a massive concern,” she said.
     
    Charlotte City Council member Claire Fallon caught wind of Eschert's concerns and went to the building herself.
     
    “I saw wires hanging down, whether they were phone wires or electric wires,” Fallon said. “I didn't feel at that point it was safe -- absolutely not.”
     
    A week later, Eschert said she was called into a meeting with supervisors, alerting her of a citizen complaint regarding a post she made on her personal Facebook page, which she says was private.
     
    The posts referred to the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting and said in part: “If you are a thug and worthless to society, it's not race, you're just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are.”
     
    The fire department and city manager's office determined those posts were fireable offenses.

    DOCUMENT: City of Charlotte social media policy

     
    When asked if she thinks there are other reasons she was terminated, Eschert said, “Yes, for voicing my concern regarding the future fire investigation task force building.” 
     
    Channel 9 obtained a moisture and mold report from the Graham Street building by Hart and Hickman, an environmental consulting company.
     
    It states: “Although the conditioned space mold spore counts were lower than outdoor levels, they are relatively high based on H&H experience and published screening levels."
     
    The company recommended more testing after renovations are complete. It recommended the building be cleaned with high-efficiency vacuums and fungicides, and it recommended high-efficiency pre-filters in the HVAC system.
     
    For weeks, Channel 9 has been asking the city for information about the building.
     
    On Monday night, the city of Charlotte issued a news release announcing city manager Ron Carlee has launched an investigation into Eschert’s retaliations charge.
     
    But Carlee stands by the city's decision to terminate Eschert, saying her Facebook post “is in conflict with our responsibility to serve all members of the community.  A city employee cannot label some members of a community as ‘a thug’ and ‘worthless to society’ and ‘a waste.’"
     
    The release said Eschert's case is one of many recent concerns raised about fire department management. Carlee said Fire Chief Jon Hannan has requested a third-party review of his department. That will happen in the next 30 days.
     
    Meanwhile, Eschert lost her fight to keep her job, but still doesn't believe social media is the real reason.
     
    Renovations at the North Graham Street office will be complete next week.
     
    Then mold and moisture tests will be done on the entire building again.


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