A few months ago, Zyaire (12) and Lamar Mitchell (9) died in a house fire in Flint, Michigan after two firefighters failed to sweep the premises for survivors, per CNN. The Flint Fire Department Chief Raymond Barton punished the two firefighters for lying about properly sweeping the scene.
The case bubbled back up into the media after Crystal Cooper, the mother of the two boys, held a press conference asking for answers and accountability from the fire department. Once Barton conducted a thorough examination of the incident, he found former firefighters Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek guilty of claiming they had checked every room in the house, and then later admitting they’d missed one. As a result, Barton decided the best course of action was to order the termination of both firefighters. Mayor Sheldon Neely overrode that decision, allowing one to keep his job, and the other to resign. Both eventually resigned.
Barton contends that following their discipline, he was in hot water with the union and Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s office. He alleges they tried to overturn his recommended punishment, per WNEM. He also claims the union president asked the mayor to replace him. Both the mayor and his state legislator wife were running for re-election and wanted to keep the fire union’s endorsement. As it so happens, Theron Wiggins was named Interim Fire Chief Thursday.
“I never disciplined [the firefighters] for missing the room - I disciplined them for submitting a false report,” Barton said to WNEM. “The only thing that I’ve ever done is follow [the mayor’s] directives. I ain’t no saint but I care about the city of Flint. I’ve sacrificed so much for this city, the relationships with my sons. I had so many firefighters in my department that didn’t have a father figure come to me like a father figure and a big brother.”
Read the union’s response from MLive:
Members of the Flint City Council have questioned the limited discipline given to Zlotek and in October voted to initiate an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the punishment.
Nick Kendrick, president of Flint Firefighters Local 352, said in a message to MLive-The Flint Journal on Wednesday that Zlotek has been hired by another fire department “with better pay and benefits.”
Kendrick has said both Zlotek and Sniegocki have been made scapegoats for their attempted search for the Mitchell brothers in a home that was still smoldering and filled with smoke.
The union has said the city has put firefighters in harm’s way because of chronic understaffing in the fire department.
It’s unspecified what warranted the chief’s alleged termination. However, it is suspicious, given Cooper’s pending lawsuit against the city and the two firefighters as well as the investigation into the incident.