By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hall County mum on deal over firetruck involved in July 22 accident
Lawsuit concerns keep Hall from releasing info on purchase of faulty vehicle
Placeholder Image

The ladder truck that malfunctioned during a training exercise last month and injured three Hall County firefighters was inspected by an asset protection solutions group and signed off on by a battalion chief, but Hall County officials have declined to share any communication among themselves about the truck.

An inspection on the 2006 Sutphen ladder truck was performed by MISTRAS, which presented a certificate of its inspection March 28.

In an inspection report by MISTRAS obtained by The Times, a comment is made that “2nd section cables [retract] need adjustment.”

Attempts by The Times to reach a representative from MISTRAS were unsuccessful.

Will Griffin, Stephen Jackson and TJ Elliott fell 44 feet when the truck malfunctioned July 22. A snapped cable lay on the ground following the incident. Investigations into the cause of the malfunction have not been completed.

Hall County received the firetruck from Sutphen on April 25. The truck is still under the limited warranty phase, a six-month period that began when it was delivered.

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley could not comment on whether the warranty for the truck would cover the incident.

The Times filed an open records request for emails between July 21 and Aug. 18 between former Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell, County Administrator Randy Knighton and Hall County commissioners concerning the firetruck.

In addition, a request was made for all emails between commissioners and Knighton regarding Kimbrell. The search gleaned only two emails: a message about retirement meetings from Kimbrell and a forwarded message from Commissioner Scott Gibbs about Kimbrell’s parting message to his staff.

Emails were excluded regarding “medical information, litigation, and potential litigation,” Hall County Board of Commissioners clerk Lisa Ritchie wrote in an email.

Crumley could not comment on whether any litigation had been filed against the county. According to records at the county courthouse, no lawsuits naming the firefighters have been filed as of Thursday.

Kimbrell, who was relieved of command Aug. 18 following the incident, was given permission by the Board of Commissioners to reach out to sellers for a ladder truck. An informal process, instead of the typical bid procedure, was used due to the limited number of ladder truck dealers, Crumley said.

“We are proud of our reputation for quality and integrity, and look forward to serving your community in the future for your fire apparatus needs,” Sutphen President Drew Sutphen wrote to Kimbrell a week before the truck was delivered.

The truck, purchased for $525,000, originally belonged to the Bluffton Township Fire District in South Carolina, which wrote in a 2013 Beaufort County report that the department had “lost all confidence in the truck and its safety and capabilities.”

Between 2009 and 2012, the first and third section extension cables failed three times, causing the Bluffton department to sell the truck back to Sutphen in 2013, according to the County Council report.

Sutphen called for the voluntary removal of all aerial five-section devices July 23.

“At this time, our priority is the safety of our firefighters,” wrote Drew Sutphen in a company statement that day. “In light of the recent incidents, we recognize there is an immediate need to take precautionary action. I would rather take every precaution necessary than to put firefighters at risk.”

Emails connected to the incident sent to The Times showed members of county government were displeased with Kimbrell’s choice of words in his parting message. Throughout his “Final Thoughts as Chief” email sent to the department, the former chief referred as to his opposition as “cancer.”

“Hall County Fire is a great department because of every one of yall, don’t let the cancer metastasize and consume you and your strong will,” Kimbrell wrote.

Knighton expressed his dismay with Kimbrell’s final message to the department.

“While I appreciate the support he expressed for Chief (Jeff) Hood, I was very disappointed in his references to certain people within Fire Services,” Knighton wrote in his email. “I met with David (the morning of Aug. 19) and expressed my disappointment with the phraseology and terms he used.”