“Nobody should judge me on one incident,” is the message TribLive.com reporter Liz Zemba got in a phone conversation with Uniontown, Pennsylvania (Fayette County) Fire Chief Chuck Coldren yesterday, three days after his tirade against a citizen with a camera was posted to YouTube. The citizen is self-described activist Chris Shellhammer who, along with his mother, has been involved in protests at the courthouse and police station and regularly videos police activity.
Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike, who says the incident will be investigated, reiterated what he told other reporters, “For him to come unglued like that, somebody had to provoke him.” But according to reporter Zemba, who has seen additional raw video shot by Shellhammer, there is no indiction of anything leading up to the confrontation.
“I’ve devoted 40-plus years of public service to the city of Uniontown,” Coldren said. “I’ve always been totally professional. People who don’t know me have no right to judge me.”
“They were at a bomb scare, where people are in harm’s way, and you’re trying to keep people out of harm’s way,” Fike said. “It’s not like Chuck is a mean, degrading, terrible person, because he isn’t.”
“There are two sides to every story,” Fike said. “We have to look at the video and talk to Chuck to get to the real cause of it to determine whatever the reprimand will be, if anything.”
Some thoughts on how Uniontown is dealing with this incident. When a man dressed in civilian clothes, screams “leave” to a citizen standing in an area that is not blocked off and the citizen asks who he is, if your first answer is “I’m the fire chief, do you want to f#$*ing argue with me?”, you should be throwing in the towel immediately. Stop trying to defend the indefensible, making excuses and looking for ways to justify the chief’s response and his apparent threat to do bodily harm to the citizen. All you are doing now is stretching this story into multiple days of news coverage and making sure that even more people see how stupid your fire chief looks and how lame your excuses are.
There should have been an apology from day one. With the apology should be an explanation from the mayor and fire chief that Uniontown and it’s officials recognize the rights of citizens to take pictures along with an announcement that guidelines are in place to prevent this from happening again.
If these leaders have any sense, something similar to that will ultimately occur anyway. It almost always does. Why wait and destroy your credibility and image further? Swallow your pride, get over yourself and deal with it like reponsible leaders.
In addition, if you are the person promising an investigation, when you make a statement that “somebody had to provoke him” when there is no clear evidence in the public record to back up that point, you are letting everyone know that getting to the bottom of what happened may not be your real goal.
There was a lot to learn in the original video showing the chief going nuclear and there is a lot to learn from how Uniontown is handling the fallout.
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Also on STATter911 …
- More cameras focused on Uniontown, PA fire chief. News coverage of Chuck Coldren’s tirade has mayor saying there will be an investigation. – June 13, 2013
- Raw video: Latest clip shows what lead up to Uniontown, PA Fire Chief Chuck Coldren’s confrontation with citizen. – June 19, 2013
- Must see video: More adventures in public relations. Is this the Captain Smart of the north? – June 11, 2013
- Is this something or nothing? Newspaper questions if FDNY tests sites are helping the terrorists. – September 19, 2012
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