HOMER, GA. The Georgia county fire chief who lost a huge cadre of volunteers Tuesday night calls the incident a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Banks County Chief Gary Pollard said his attempt to restructure the department led to the mass exodus in which 33 of 50 volunteers walked out.
As of Thursday afternoon, only seven had turned in their turnout gear.
"I was changing the rank from battalion chief to lieutenant. They were not happy with the change," the chief said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. "Their job responsibilities had not changed, just the title."
Two of the three men who felt they were being demoted were among those who turned in their equipment. The other is staying on as a lieutenant.
"This was not a demotion. But, they thought it was."
Pollard, who has been at the helm since October, said the rank change was his attempt to unite several departments into one unit. "I thought it also would generate a better working relationship between the paid firefighters and the volunteers."
He said there also were rumors that the move was an attempt to take away benefits or pensions. "We've never given that a thought."
The chief noted that the rank change was not just aimed at the volunteers either. Shift supervisors on the career side who used to be captains are now lieutenants as well. However, there are still two captains who perform administrative functions.
He is hoping that the volunteers who walked out will find their ways back.
"We've also had about 10-12 people stop by and pick up applications in the past two days."
The chief said he will be interested to see just how many of those applicants follow through with the process. But, he said the department will continue its recruitment effort.
The combination department handled about 1,300 calls last year. They staff three ALS ambulances as well as fire apparatus.
Related: 33 Firefighters Resign from Ga. Fire Dept. .