Williamston fire chief resigns

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Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison, and his son, Captain Van Ellison, have both resigned their positions with the Williamston Fire Department.

According to Mayor Rockey Burgess, the actions came about after an incident in which Van Ellison exchanged words with members of the West Pelzer Fire Department. Both departments were responding to a structure fire on Parker Street in Williamston.
According to Burgess, Captain Ellison, who was putting on response gear, told members of the West Pelzer Fire Department who had a ladder and were on their way to evaluate the fire, “to calm down”, then repeated it with an expletive added.

The mayor said that he did not ask for either firefighter to resign and had left the decision on how to address the situation to the fire chief.

Burgess said that in a followup meeting with the fire chief, he was told that Van Ellison was being suspended for 30 days. He said he thought the situation was resolved, but received notice of Van Ellison’s resignation, then Chief Ellison’s, the following day.

“On Wednesday, March 3, Chief Ellison tendered his resignation to Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Bell. I accepted that resignation,” Mayor Burgess said. “On Tuesday March 2, Captain Van Ellison offered his resignation via email. It was accepted on Wednesday March 3 at the same time as Chief Ellison’s.”

Burgess said he responded to the resignations with the following statement: “Gentlemen, I want to thank you for many years of service to the Williamston Fire Department and to the residents of Williamston. I accept both of your resignations and I wish you both the very best in all of your future endeavors.”

The mayor did say that at a meeting with the fire department in January, just after taking office as mayor, he did tell the members of the volunteer fire department that he expected professionalism from them all when on a fire call.

“We will be professionals. There will be consequences for unprofessional behavior while at the scene,” Mayor Burgess said he told them.

Burgess said fire protection in Williamston will not be affected by the change and that he sees “no issues” regarding response to fires.

Timmy Heatherly has been appointed interim chief until a fire chief is named”, Burgess said. “He is the right person to lead the department forward at this time.”

Until his resignation, Chief Ellison had been a member of the Williamston Fire Department for 40 years and served as chief for the last 29 years. Under his leadership, the department had been working steadily to make the volunteer fire department one of the best in the state. In 2014 they received a Class 3 ISO rating, the highest ever scored for an all volunteer department in the state at that time. They improved a 2020 ISO audit score by adding a ladder truck and a paid position, and just missed getting to a Class 2.

Chief Ellison declined to comment publicly for this story.