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Bennington firefighters reinstated amid controversy - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Bennington firefighters reinstated amid controversy

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BENNINGTON, Vt. -

The Bennington Rural Fire Station was packed with people and support for the 15 members recently suspended over their part in an annual stunt.

"Do you realize these are the real heroes of America?" asked Milo Campbell.  He hosted the event in May called Mudders Day which involved firefighters dousing a camper with gasoline, lighting it with a flare, and then driving a car through the flames. The chief of the department says he didn't know about the event, but that those lighting the fire lacked permits and liability was a big concern.

"Even if I went and got permits, the town probably wouldn't have allowed it anyway because of the toxics in the trailer," Bennington Fire Chief Shawn Gardner said.

Gardner is one of three chiefs at the department who recently suspended all those at the event pending a state investigation, but those suspended feel the permitting issue shouldn't have fallen on their shoulders.

"I'm assuming that my chief is looking out for us and taking care of us instead of kicking us under the bus like you guys did," suspended Fire Captain Roger Hughs said.

At one point in the meeting, the crowd called for Gardner's impeachment.

"You walk and you turn your back against these guys -- you're bad. You're a bad man," said Doug Whitman, a firefighter with the North Bennington Fire Department.

Though that's not something that would have been legally possible to achieve at the meeting, all those present made it clear they disagree with the suspension.

"I would ask you to do the right thing for these firemen and reinstate them until these guys do the right thing and figure it out," Milo Campbell said.

After an hour of contentious conversation, the chiefs went into executive session and voted to reinstate the members effective immediately.

Bennington police are not looking into the Mudders Day incident -- that's being looked into by the Agency of Natural Resources to see if any environmental laws were violated.

The department is still facing up to a $100,000 fine if the state determines environmental laws were broken, and each firefighter could face up to five years in jail plus a $3,000 fine.

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