PILOT ROCK — The Pilot Rock Rural Fire Protection District board is getting more heat for keeping Capt. Brian Hemphill in its ranks.
Members of the organization Equity on Fire joined the board’s meeting Monday, Feb. 13, to express concerns over a perceived promotion of Hemphill.
Equity on Fire is a nonprofit in California with the goal to “advocate for accountability and end the historically skewed professional archetype of the role of firefighters to be more inclusive of all races, genders and sexualities,” according to its website.
Equity on Fire Co-founder Lauren Andrade said the fire district has engaged in illegal employment practices and has received multiple complaints about Hemphill, some of which she said have resulted in Hemphill retaliating against volunteers.
“This retaliation includes removing duties and removing the staff members from the schedule, reducing their incomes,” Andrade told the board. “This will lead to wages lost and proof of retaliation for these members. This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and ultimately the problem continues to be unaddressed.”
Andrade said it is Equity on Fire’s view that Hemphill is a “well-documented violent crimes felon” and the state has permanently revoked his firefighting certifications.
“Yet they continue to allow him to work even though the state deemed him uncertifiable,” Andrade said. “He is also the primary person engaging in retaliation.”
Members of Equity on Fire shared their concerns at the meeting through Zoom,
Members of Equity on Fire shared their concerns at the meeting through Zoom. Some identified themselves while others remained anonymous. They focused their appeals toward Pendleton Fire Chief Jim Critchley, who continues to also oversee the fire department in Pilot Rock, which still lacks a chief of its own after the previous chief, Herschel Rostov resigned while on administrative leave.
Chief among the complaints was the perception Hemphill recently received a promotion to an operations chief role.
“I’m critical of the news of your ridiculous promotion of Brian Hemphill to operations chief. What in the world is wrong with you?” Cynthia Freeman, a wife of a firefighter from California, asked Critchley. “Are there other members of your department who have had their basic firefighting certifications revoked, and declared to be inactive by the Oregon Health Authority or still on active duty? The argument that there was nobody else willing and able to fill that position is bogus and truly insulting.”
“First of all, there was no promotion,” Critchley said after the meeting. “Hemphill took the role of acting operations chief, he was already a fire captain. There was no promotion. As for his issues, they happened in 2013, and in 2015 he had a DUII. He’s been working since then to get those things expunged from his records. He’s been doing the right things as far as the community and his family are concerned. I wonder, how long do you make somebody pay penance?”
Oregon law does not allow for the expungement of convictions for driving under the influence of intoxicants under any circumstance, even if charges had been dismissed after completing a diversion program.
Hemphill’s revoked certifications also present a complicated situation for Critchley, but he explained Hemphill has more experience fighting fires than anyone else in the department, and operationally, he’s the only one capable of managing the department’s operations efficiently.
“Hemphill has done everything that the courts have asked him to,” Critchley said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if his record doesn’t look different within the next couple of months.”
And he said he believes in Equity on Fire stands for — that everybody should have a fair shot at any position.
“But it can’t be done on the back of everyone else’s safety,” Critchley said. “That’s why I can rest easy knowing I’m doing the right thing for the citizens of Pilot Rock.”
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