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Missouri auditor says metro community built $1.8M fire station but forgot firefighters

SMITHVILLE, Mo. -- A Missouri community is experiencing trouble in Paradise, quite literally.

Sixteen minutes outside of Smithville and the only working fire station in the Smithville Area Fire Protection District sits a $1.8 million fire station in Paradise, Missouri.

The fire station on the east side of Smithville Lake, paid for by voters, was completed 16 months ago. But a sign on the door informs visitors, “Fire Station not staffed. Please call 911 in case of an emergency."

“They had no plans on how they were going to get equipment for the fire station, maintain this new station. They don’t have personnel to run this new station, so it’s essentially sitting unused," Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway said.

It’s just part of the puzzling management of the Smithville Area Fire Protection District that Galloway uncovered after a former KCFD firefighter moved to town and started asking questions.

“When I found out about the injustice that was happening to these men as far as lack of equipment, lack of concern for their safety and other areas, that’s when I stepped in," Charlie Waters said.

Waters started a petition drive for the audit, but Galloway said getting answers from the fire district’s former chief wasn’t easy. She had to take the unusual step of issuing subpoenas.

Galloway said she found $1,747 paid to Chief John Callahan for travel expenses for a 2014  Firefighter Rescue International Conference in Dallas. But there’s no record he attended. Current Fire Chief Dave Cline said Callahan made the trip but didn't attend.

The audit also uncovered more than $200,000 in bonuses paid out to the chief and firefighters over a 4-year period. But Galloway pointed out bonuses not tied to pre-determined incentives are illegal for public employees in Missouri.

Additionally,  for 4 years, firefighters' respirators went untested because Callahan said he didn’t know the tests were needed.

“It’s deeply disappointing that he was not doing a very important part of the job for firefighters yet receiving bonuses on the other hand and at the same time," Galloway said.

Callahan was placed on leave last year, then paid nearly $93,000 for the next 6 months until a separation agreement could be reached. His photo is mysteriously absent on the Smithville Area Fire Protection District’s Wall of Past Fire Chiefs.

An entirely new Fire Protection District Board has been voted in since the audit began, including the man who started the petition drive.

“I think one person can start the avalanche," Waters said.

Waters said the board is working on a plan to put before voters to try to staff the fire station in Paradise and try to improve response times, while they also try to repair a tarnished image.

“We are on the right path to transparency, and I think it’s 180 degrees from what I witnessed 2 years ago," Waters said.

Galloway said she’s turned over the findings of her audit to authorities to determine if any of the payments she calls “illegal” under Missouri's Constitution could be deemed criminal.

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