Hall County’s fire chief relieved of command Monday was in charge of the search to purchase the ladder truck that injured three Hall County firefighters during a training accident July 22, county officials said.
David Kimbrell will now serve solely as the emergency management agency director for Hall County, with Jeff Hood filling the role as interim fire chief. As a result of the staffing change, Kimbrell’s salary decreased from $111,113 annually to $95,000.
“Since the ladder truck is a specialized item, the Board of Commissioners gave David Kimbrell permission to research and reach out to specialized dealers to find the best vehicle for the county’s needs,” Hall County public information officer Katie Crumley wrote in an emailed statement.
On July 22, Will Griffin, TJ Elliott and Stephen Jackson fell 44 feet in the ladder truck’s bucket during a training exercise. All are recovering from injuries and undergoing through therapy after receiving treatment at medical services across Northeast Georgia.
Factors involved the purchasing process include the specialized nature of the truck desired, which “separates it to a large extent from the other vehicles in the fire services’ fleet,” Crumley said.
In a letter to fire services obtained by The Times, Kimbrell denied any knowledge of the truck’s troubled history.
“I can assure you; no one involved with procuring the ladder had any knowledge of its reported history during the procurement; it was never revealed by the manufacturer,” Kimbrell wrote. “You can believe the folks from the fire department that were deeply involved with that or believe the cancer that has no clue just speculation — Your choice.”
The previous owner of the Sutphen truck was the Bluffton Township Fire District, a South Carolina-based fire service division that “lost all confidence in the truck” after a series of cable failures.
After retaining an independent forensic engineer, County Administrator Randy Knighton and county investigators are trying to learn the facts about the truck at the time of the purchase.
“We’re looking at all aspects of that now,” Knighton said. “We’re going back and checking the history of the vehicle and everything that transpired there, because we want to get a full picture of the vehicle history, as well as the information that was provided to us by the Sutphen company.”
The ladder truck involved in the incident serves the North Hall area, with the one other ladder truck serving the south end of the county.
The vehicle received a certificate of inspection from the non-destructive testing company Mistras, which was presented to Hall County leaders March 28.
With few truck dealers, Kimbrell and a committee of fire services personnel determined specifications, with Kimbrell making a recommendation to the board. This informal method, Crumley wrote, is used as the “competitive sealed bid method is neither practical nor advantageous to the County, and where cost is not the primary consideration.”
All pumper trucks, rescue trucks and the one other ladder truck owned by the county were all purchased new, according to a vehicle information database.