Police arrest fire chief

Published 11:05 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An apparent territorial dispute between area fire departments has led to one fire chief being arrested for interfering with a government operation.

Phillip Rachels, chief of the North Chilton Volunteer Fire Department, was arrested Friday by the Jemison Police Department and charged with interfering for his actions at a wreck scene on Wednesday, April 8.

Multiple attempts to reach Rachels for comment were unsuccessful.

The wreck, which happened on County Road 146 near Minooka Park, was a one-vehicle accident resulting in one injury and one fatality, 5-year-old Shania Menoza-Meza.

According to reports, the accident happened further down the road near the park, but the driver of the vehicle, Maria Meza-Arias Delourdes, drove the car back to U.S. Highway 31, where she was able to call 911 for help.

Dispatchers at E911 dispatched the Jemison Fire Department to respond to the accident and later dispatched North Chilton Volunteer Fire Department.

According to E911 Director Helen Smith, where the accident occurred, closer to the park, is in Jemison’s district, but where the call was made, near U.S. Hwy. 31, is in North Chilton’s district.

“There was a hard time understanding the caller on the exact location, which is why we dispatched Jemison first,” Smith said. “We then dispatched North Chilton second.”

It was this multiple dispatching that may have led to the confusion about who was in charge of the scene.

According to Fulmer, Rachels, who was not yet on the scene, began calling in commands for which ambulance service to use, etc. that were in conflict to those orders already ordered by Jemison officials on the scene.

Once on the scene, Fulmer said Rachels continued giving orders. A Jemison police officer at the scene instructed Rachels to leave, telling him Jemison was in command of the scene. Rachels then reportedly did leave.

Fulmer, who said he was not at the wreck scene, investigated Rachels’ actions later in the week before deciding to charge Rachels and arrest him for interfering with a government operation.

“After investigating what happened and consulting with our city prosecutor, Dale Waid, we decided to go ahead and charge him with interfering,” Fulmer said.

The charge is a Class A Misdemeanor.

Smith said that whenever there is confusion over which department should have been dispatched, her office will later go out, take the address and then discuss with the departments involved who should have been the one to respond.