KELLY-KELTON — The Kelly-Kelton Fire District Fire Board has placed the district’s fire chief on administrative leave while it conducts an internal review of his behavior while responding to a fire outside the district.
Fire Board Chair Kindra Horne said Tuesday that the board made its decision to place Chief Bryan on administrative leave at a meeting on Feb. 23. She said Bryan will remain on administrative leave until March 7 when the board will hold its next meeting
Acting at the direction of the board, Horne issued the following statement concerning its decision.
“Kelly Kelton Fire Chief Bryan Farr has been placed on a two week administrative leave while the Fire Board investigates allegations that Chief Farr challenged the orders given by the Incident Commander at a fire scene in the Lockhart Fire District. Chief Farr will be allowed to continue his office duties at the department during this leave, however he will not be permitted to drive the trucks or respond to any fire scenes during this time.”
The press release states that the Kelly-Kelton Fire Department “responded to a structure fire on South 5th Street in the Lockhart Community during the early morning hours of February 8, 2016. Our board has received information that Chief Farr argued with the Incident Commander over the course of action he had chosen to take in fighting the fire.”
It states that “over the next two weeks our board will gather as much information as possible concerning this report. We will then meet and go over what we have and speak to the individuals who witnessed the incident. We are not interested in rumors, hearsay or assumptions and plan to base any decision that we must make on facts.”
The press release also addresses allegations that Farr was intoxicated at the time.
“As you know, there have been numerous reports alleging that Chief Farr was under the influence of alcohol while driving Engine 601 to the scene of the fire. The Union County Sheriff’s Office responded to the fire scene and Chief Farr willingly left the scene with a deputy and agreed to undergo a breathalyzer test. At no time was Mr. Farr ever handcuffed or placed under arrest. The test was inconclusive and no charges were filed against Mr. Farr.”
While the press release addresses those allegations, Horne said the board’s decision has nothing to do with them as they have already been investigated by the sheriff’s office.
The press release states that “Sheriff Taylor is the top law enforcement official in this county, as such; he and his deputies are trained to investigate allegations of this nature. We support our law enforcement and their ability to effectively determine when and if charges are necessary. We ask that all residents of this county extend that same courtesy. That being said, our board does intend to review, revise and add any policies necessary in an effort to prevent situations of this nature in the future.”
The statement concluded with an assurance by the Fire Board that the department will continue to provide fire protection service and asked for the public’s support.
“We would like to assure the residents of our district that even though this department is going through many struggles, the district maintains fire protection. While Chief Farr is on leave, our other firefighters will continue to run calls in the district and in accordance with the Union County Automatic Aid Agreement. Our neighboring departments will also be available to assist as needed and we extend our thanks to those departments. We ask for your support and understanding as we move through this process. Our greatest concern is that we make the best decisions possible for our fire district and all those living in it.”
The allegations that Farr was intoxicated at the scene of the fire were also addressed by Taylor.
“The night of the fire we got a call through 911 that the fire department was calling for a deputy to help determine the cause of the fire,” Taylor said Tuesday morning. “When they got there that’s when they heard the complaint about the Kelly-Kelton fire chief.”
Taylor said that as he waited for the homeowner to arrive, Deputy Roger Hill noticed Farr and Incident Commander Lee Brannon having a heated exchange of words. He said the deputy was then told by Brannon that Farr had the smell of alcohol on him and appeared to be intoxicated. Taylor said Hill called in Deputy Brandon Vaughn, his office’s DUI enforcement officer, who he said spoke with Farr and noticed that he had a smell of alcohol or a fruity smell on him. He said Vaughan asked Farr if he’d been drinking and was told by Farr that he’d been drinking during the Super Bowl earlier that night.
Taylor said the Super Bowl ended around 11 p.m. while the fire was at 2:30 a.m., a span of more than three hours. He said the deputy asked Farr how much he’d had to drink and was told he’d had a few drinks. Taylor said Vaughn then asked Farr if he’d submit to a field sobriety test to see if he was okay. He said that Farr cooperated with the deputy and underwent the tests.
It was during the field tests that Taylor said Farr told Vaughn about his medical condition.
“He cooperated with the deputy, he was not under arrest,” Taylor said. “The deputy took Farr to the front of his patrol vehicle and conducted the field tests. During the field tests, as is required by protocol, the deputy asked Farr if he had any major health issues or medical conditions that he needed to know about. He said he’d had a massive stroke two to three years ago and almost died from it.
“Vaughan asked him if this left him with any physical, mental or verbal impairment,” he said. “Farr said that since the stroke he has slow speech and has problems walking and trouble with his balance.”
Taylor said that Farr was given three different field sobriety tests, passing the majority of them but having trouble with some of the tests. He said the troubles Farr had with some of the tests could be due to his prior health problems.
After the field tests, Taylor said Vaughn asked Farr if he would go the Union Public Safety Department and allow him to conduct a Datamaster test. He said Farr voluntarily agreed to go to the Public Safety Department and undergo the test.
Taylor said the Datamaster test was administered six times and each time it showed an “intereference detected reading” which he said meant it was unable to make a determination as to Farr’s condition. He said that after the last test was administered, Farr was transported back to the Kelly-Kelton Fire Department and his personal vehicle.
A video from the night of the fire shows that Farr was behind the wheel of a fire truck, but Taylor said that when deputies arrived on the scene no one there said that Farr had been driving the vehicle. He added that it would not be until the next day that his office learned of the video which, had it been turned over law enforcement first instead of the media it might have helped deputies in their investigation.
“No one at the scene said anything about him being behind the wheel of the fire truck,” Taylor said. “We did not know until the next day that a volunteer fireman had a video of him driving the fire truck to the scene. At no time has the video been given to law enforcement. It was given to the news media. It would have been very helpful that night at the scene if somebody had come forward and made the video available to law enforcement.”
Taylor said that that the video showed the fire truck Farr was driving run off the road while trying to get around a corner. When questioned about this, Taylor said Farr said he was not used to driving the vehicle. He added that Farr did tell the deputy that he had been driving the fire truck, but no one else told the deputy that.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or email@example.com.