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Camp fire chief files assault complaint, dismissed by board

Friday, July 29, 2011

Former Camp Fire Chief Richard Navarro
On Thursday, July 8, the Camp Volunteer Fire Department Board fired Chief Richard Navarro, after he twice called for police back up at a fire scene the night before, because of problems with two of his firefighters.

"We got the call at 10:07 p.m. (July 7) that lightning had struck a trailer," Navarro told The News. "John Davis, Hugo Puerta and myself were the first to arrive at the fire station, and we left in the pumper truck and brush truck."

When they arrived at the fire on Pleasant Valley Road, they were met by a man, who advised them the fire was in a large travel trailer.

"It was blazing out of control and he was worried the propane tanks on the back of the trailer could explode, because he had just filled them for a trip," Navarro explained.

According to Narvarro, he ordered the brush truck to be pulled near the fire. That allowed firefighter Davis, who was not wearing his protective gear, to stand behind the truck and spray the propane tanks to cool them down. That freed Navarro and Puerta, who were wearing turnout gear, to attack the fire.

Navarro said problems began when Camp Fire Department Captain David Cunningham, who is also a Fulton County Justice of the Peace, arrived with the tanker truck, which would supply more water for the fire response. Instead of hooking the tanker to the pumper, Navarro claims Cunningham began yelling and cursing at him, because no firefighter was at the pumper truck controls.

"I explained there was only three of us on the scene," said Navarro. "I told him to get water to the pumper and help put out the fire, and we would discuss the issue later."

According to a complaint Navarro wrote out and filed with the Fulton County Sheriff's Department, Cunningham continued to confront him and, when Cunningham got in his face, Navarro could smell alcohol.

After asking Cunningham to get out of the way and stop disrupting fire operations, Navarro used his two way radio to call the sheriff's department and ask for a deputy to be sent to the scene.

"A short time later, a vehicle pulled up with Leon and Michelle Lundry," said Navarro.

According to Navarro's complaint, Cunningham "told them, 'This (blankety-blank) called the police on me because I've been drinking.' Leon and Michelle decided to give him a ride, since David drove the tanker to the scene. I told Michelle, 'do not drive him away because the police was on the way and I want him to be tested for alcohol,' said Navarro in the statement.

"In that moment, Leon got out of the truck and grabbed me from my turnout and started punching me in the arm and shoulders and tried to drag me to the floor," the statement continued. "I was blocking his punches and tried to call the sheriffs office by radio with my other hand and let them know I was being attacked. In that moment, Michelle got out of the truck and grabbed her husband, saying 'not here' a couple of times. David got out of the truck and helped Michelle get Leon off me and put him in the truck. All three left the scene in a hurry."

Navarro's claim of being attacked is backed up by his alarming message that was heard on police and fire scanners all over the area.

"I heard them making the fire run, and the call for a deputy," said one firefighter who contacted The News, but asked not to be identified. "Then, I heard the chief screaming into the radio. At first, I couldn't make out what he was saying, he was very excited. Then, I realized he was being assaulted. I heard him call for "help and assistance."

After the fire was out and the scene cleared, Navarro traveled to the sheriff's department where he wrote out a complaint, describing Lundry's assault and the disruption Cunningham caused at the fire scene.

"The next day (July 8), I began getting calls from firefighters from Camp and other departments that heard everything over the scanner, wanting to know if I was alright and wanting to know what the police were doing about it."

On the afternoon of July 8, Navarro also got a call from Michelle Lundry, telling him the board had called an emergency meeting for that night.

Another board member, Danny Sutherland, told Navarro he would not attend the meeting, because it was a secret meeting that other firefighters knew nothing about. Sutherland, a former Camp Fire Chief, advised Navarro to boycott the meeting, as well.

Navarro was later given a letter, delivered by a sheriff's deputy, advising him he had been terminated as chief, unless he chose to resign.

The three board members at the meeting were David Cunningham, the firefighter Navarro alleges disrupted the fire operation, Cunningham's wife, Tammy, and Michelle Lundry, who allegedly witnessed her husband's assault on Navarro and drove Leon Lundry and Cunningham away before a deputy arrived.

"I am disappointed, because the board members are prejudiced against Richard (Navarro is from Columbia, South America)," said Sutherland. "He was doing his job, trying to put out a fire with just three people when he was interfered with. If he's out (as fire chief), I'm off (the board)."

"The worse thing was, they changed the locks and entry codes at the fire station," said Navarro. "At first, I was praying there is no fire or emergency, because firefighters and first reponders could not get in to get vehicles and equipment."

"I still know members who do not have keys to get in if they are called," Navarro added.

"Basically, we are not protected right now," a Camp resident told The News. She asked not to be identified for fear of "retribution."

"This is why so many people around here don't want anything to do with the department; there is always drama and infighting," said the caller.

Navarro said other departments immediately called him about joining their departments, and he chose the Morriston Fire Department, because much of his training was gained there and he is familiar with its operation.

Board President David Cunningham did not respond to numerous requests for comments regarding the July 7 incident and the status of the Camp Fire Department.

"The day after they dismissed me, David told me, 'We both made mistakes that night,'" said Navarro. "He said there was no hard feelings."

While Navarro filed his assault complaint at 1:35 a.m. on July 8, and many people heard him under attack on police scanners, he has yet to be interviewed by the sheriff's department, which is supposed to be investigating the incident.

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What would you expect? Glad Navarro has found a new home. Every small town seems to have major power strugles. Everyone thinks their the only ones who know anything and will kick your butt to prove it.

-- Posted by Basser on Tue, Aug 2, 2011, at 10:42 AM

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