Controversy surrounds former Jericho volunteer chief - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Controversy surrounds former Jericho volunteer chief

New developments in last week's deadly fire in Jericho, Arkansas.

Jericho's mayor has learned the volunteer Fire Chief has a criminal background. That, in addition to some response problems, has the town looking into making some changes.

Jericho Mayor Helen Adams says she doesn't take the loss of her old classmate lightly. "I just, it's sad," she said. The mayor says 65-year-old Robert Simmons died in a fire last week after the volunteer fire chief failed to respond to the blaze.

In a new twist, Adams confirms she fired the former chief John Hamlin because she just learned he was a sex offender. "This is something that I had to do," she said.

This all came to light after last week's fire when the mayor started looking into the case.

Hamlin's name does not show up on the Arkansas sex offender registry which could be one reason Jericho wasn't aware of his past.

Now, the mayor's moving forward to find solutions to her fire personnel and equipment challenges. "We got to come up with what we're gonna do and how we're gonna do it," she said.

One option could include shutting the volunteer fire department down and depending on nearby Marion, but Adams needs approval from her alderman to make a final decision.

For now, Adams is working to make sure her friend didn't die in vain and she hopes the people of jericho will support her efforts to find a solution. "I'm just hoping and praying that everything can work out. Because we lost him," said Adams.

While Hamlin was unreachable for comment, the Jericho alderman will hold a strategy meeting before the year is out.

They also have plans to instill a better system of background checks.

That fire, which killed Robert Simmons, brings to light the challenges all volunteer fire departments face.

Firefighters from nearby cities like Marion responded to the Jericho blaze when dispatch couldn't reach their fire chief.

Unlike Jericho, Marion has enough businesses to generate sales taxes to maintain their volunteer fire department.

In fact, they just bought a new ladder truck to keep up with growth. "I'll go ahead and say with all the other volunteer fire departments in the county as a whole, there's a couple of missing links. Number one is personnel, number two is funding," explained Marion Volunteer Fire Chief Woody Wheeless.

Understanding those challenges, he says he will never refuse to send his men if a nearby city needs their help.

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