WDBJ7 confirmed Tuesday members of the Hollins Volunteer Fire and Rescue department will meet weekly with a mediator to help resolve personal disputes between members that have caused a month-long suspension for all volunteers.
The acceptance of a mediator leaves volunteers hopeful they will resolve their issues and be allowed again to respond to emergency calls, a volunteer source said. WDBJ7 first reported the acceptance of a mediator when, on Sunday night (Jan. 12,) most of the firefighters and rescue personnel met at the station and voted for the mediator to settle lingering issues, according to the source.
That source also says that the county has offered all members diversity training.
The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors discussed the situation Tuesday during its evening closed session.
Fire and rescue volunteers at the Hollins Volunteer Company 5 are currently not allowed to respond to calls for service during a 30 day “cooling-off period,” according to a letter from County attorney Paul Mahoney addressed to “Company 5 Volunteers.”
“My office has recently completed an investigation of numerous complaints involving bullying, intimidation, and inappropriate language and behaviors involving sexual orientation and gender, and racial slurs,” Mahoney wrote in the letter dated December 19 of last year. Details of the alleged incidents have not been disclosed and no final findings were given in the letter.
“In addition there were complaints concerning the inappropriate display and use of firearms on County property. These actions and language are personally, morally and ethically wrong,” he continued. “They also expose you as individuals, your volunteer company and Roanoke County to significant legal and financial liability.”
The suspensions started after a meeting with all parties on December 30.
When reached for comment, Roanoke County fire department leaders referred WDBJ7 to Mahoney. He declined to address the situation, calling it a "personnel issue." Company 5 president John Noel declined to speak publicly about the situation.
Officers for Company 5 declined to comment, but wanted to assure people living in the Hollins coverage area that calls for service will be responded to by career staff and other volunteer stations. Still, Mahoney expressed grave concern the station in its current climate cannot aid the public.
“It is clear to me that there are serious problems among the volunteers at Hollins – Station 5,” he wrote in the letter. “These problems need to be addressed in order to fulfill your mission to protect the citizens of Roanoke County.”