Friday, June 21, 2024

WB confirms fire chief being paid while investigated

On Jan. 19, Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Josh Haraway effectively went on paid leave, according to information obtained by Port City Daily. (Port City Daily/Peter Castagno)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — On Jan. 19, Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Josh Haraway effectively went on paid leave, according to the Town of Wrightsville Beach.

READ MORE: Wrightsville Beach fire chief on administrative leave after ‘vote of no confidence’ petition

Friday, Port City Daily broke the news that the chief was no longer leading the department, with interim fire chief Matt Holland taking over the reins.

Haraway is undergoing an investigation due to a petition that circulated last month, signed by fire and ocean rescue department staff. It accused the fire chief of creating a “culture of fear, mistrust, and authoritarianism within a line of work that requires confidence, trust, and teamwork.”

Haraway, 35, was hired to oversee the WBFD in March 2022. He started at $40.87 an hour and received his first pay increase to $44.96, due to cost-of-living adjustments, in May the same year. By July 2023, another COLA rate increase took effect, bringing him to $48.11 an hour.

According to the town, Haraway’s paid leave is non-disciplinary, pending an investigation into the petition’s allegations. They claim the chief:

  • Changed mutual aid agreements with Wilmington and New Hanover Fire Departments led to over 80 instances in 2023 where WBFD were off the island responding to other calls, leaving no fire personnel on the island
  • Improperly responded to an active shooter on Scotch Bonnet Lane in contradiction to FEMA and National Fire Protection Association guidelines. The petitoners state WBFD currently does not have a standard operating procedure to respond to active shooters
  • Made sexist or degrading comments to female staff, leading to the departure of six out of seven of the department’s female employees
  • Caused ocean rescue director Dave Baker to go on leave due to stress from the hostile work environment created by Haraway
  • Mishandled personnel issues, dismissing concerns raised by staff, and at times retaliating against employees who spoke out
  • Created a lack of support for the WBFD volunteer fire program, causing 2023 to be the first year in decades the department did not have a volunteer program.

The petition adds numerous volunteers were terminated or left on their own accord, due to Haraway’s leadership. It went live in mid-January on and has since been closed after garnering more than 550 signatures

The Town of Wrightsville Beach did not disclose if it’s searching for a new fire chief or when the investigation may wrap. Mayor Pro Tem confirmed to Port City Daily last week it is working with a third party to look into the claims.

Also on non-disciplinary leave paid administrative leave was Fire Captain Sam Proffitt. Proffitt went on leave on Jan. 9 and returned to his position Tuesday. However, HR said his leave was a personnel matter unrelated to the petition.

Proffitt has been with the department since 2016 and currently serves as captain of the fire department/ocean rescue, making $22.49 per hour.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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