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Hanceville firefighters halt work to back suspended chief

HANCEVILLE (AP) — A Cullman County town was without its fire department Monday after volunteers quit in support of the chief, who was suspended by the mayor in a disagreement over purchasing practices.

Volunteers from another community department, Johnson's Crossing, were answering calls for the Hanceville Fire Department, and it was unknown when things might return to normal in the city of 3,000.

Members of the Hanceville Volunteer Fire Department quit answering calls after Mayor Katie Whitley suspended Fire Chief Mike Watson on Friday.

"He's the best man that this department has ever had," said Brad Jones, who left the department after Watson's suspension. "This is like a brotherhood here. When your best man's gone, why stay?"

The suspension came after a newspaper reported that Whitley may have violated state bid laws by allegedly asking Watson to purchase fire safety equipment worth $47,000 in small batches to avoid having to seek bids.

"She suspended me for things she told me to do," Watson said. "She wrote me up for buying turnout gear in small invoices, which was under her instruction."

Whitley confirmed the suspension but declined to elaborate.

The suspension notice from Whitley accused Watson of purchasing irregularities.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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