Former Marion Fire Department employees speak out against indicted fire chief, city administrator

MARION, SC (WMBF) – Two former employees of the Marion Fire Department are speaking out against the department's chief and the Marion city administrator.

Fire Chief Ralph Cooper III and city administrator/building inspector Alan Ammons were granted bond in their arraignment Friday morning. Indictments against Cooper and Ammons say the two knew there was asbestos in the Marion Fire Department building, but they still allowed staff, volunteers and community members inside.

Baxley Howe was an engineer with the department until Thursday morning when he resigned. He said he and other employees were forced to shovel tiles with asbestos in them.

"We were told by Chief Cooper to start removing tiles in the back room," Howe said. "We were told several times that we were to dispose of it in the dumpster that's shared by the library and the fire department in the parking lot."

Howe added he has no doubt in his mind Cooper and Ammons knew about the asbestos and didn't take proper steps to have it removed safely.

"These guys knew that it was asbestos and it was brought to their attention multiple times, and they refused to do anything about it," he said.

Former assistant fire chief Chris McKenzie is also speaking out against Cooper and Ammons. He alleges that everything in the indictments is true.

"The asbestos tiles were broken into pieces," McKenzie said. "Hundreds and thousands of pieces and disposed of, and it was airborne. There was dust all over the fire station."

McKenzie said his main concern is the health of the people who were exposed to the asbestos, himself included.

"I'm concerned about my health and safety," he said. "What's going to happen because of the asbestos exposure 10, 15 years down the road?"

McKenzie said the city should be held responsible for any health problems that may arise in the future because of the asbestos exposure.

"I hope some medical monitoring is done for the firefighters and for the citizens who were exposed to this," he said.

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