Ousted Texas fire chief under investigation for misuse of funds

By Jessica Bruha
Odessa American

ODESSA, Texas— The fire chief of the West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department has been ousted after claims of misuse of funds, Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said.

Griffis said he was advised Monday that Chief Jimmy Ellis had been "voted out" as chief and is no longer in charge of the volunteer fire department. An allegation brought forward of Ellis mishandling funds was brought forward and now the situation has been turned over to the Texas Rangers to be investigated, the sheriff said.

CBS7 reported volunteer firefighters asked Ellis to resign due to claims of mishandled money and poor quality of property at the department, but Ellis refused, so they quit. Ellis reportedly said he was shocked and hurt by the move and felt betrayed by the crew, but would begin recruiting to fill the vacancies. Ellis could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Griffis said he was not aware of any lack of service during the turmoil last week.

"I'm not aware of any situation out there where the lack of West Odessa's volunteer fire personnel affected anything for the past week or so, but like I said, Odessa Fire Rescue does respond out there frequently to fires and on every ambulance call they send an ambulance out," Griffis said.

The sheriff said his department has worked hand in hand with the volunteer firefighters for many years and they've done a great job with what they've got. The volunteer department has helped with traffic control when there are wrecks, sometimes relieving deputies so they can return to service.

The sheriff's office also helps block traffic for the fire department whenever they're engaged in fighting a fire to keep people from entering the area until it's safe, Griffis said.

Ector County Attorney Dusty Gallivan said the county does help fund the volunteer department with taxpayer dollars, but he doesn't believe it is 100 percent funded through the county and the county has no control over how they run things.

"Every month they provide basically an invoice of what they've done and the county provides a supplement check," Gallivan said. "The only involvement the county has, we provide them some funds and property to use. We have no say so in how it's managed."

Gallivan said a board governs the West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department, which is the group that forced Ellis to step down as chief.

Ector County Judge Ron Eckert said the commissioner's court has had no involvement in the situation and said he did not have any comment on the matter since there is an ongoing investigation.

"I certainly think the investigation needs to run its course," Eckert said.

Griffis said he hopes the situation does not impair the fire department's ability to serve the citizens in West Odessa.

"I just hope that everything settles down out there and West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department can provide good services to the citizens of Ector County," he said. "A lot of those individuals work full time and then volunteer on their time off. They've done a good job."

Copyright 2017 Odessa American

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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