Riceville fire chief surprises board by announcing his retirement

Chief Thad Lewis worked at the Riceville Volunteer Fire Department for about 39 years. He announced his retirement during the board's regular meeting Monday night. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A longtime Buncombe County fire chief announced his retirement Monday evening, amid conflict with the board of directors.

Chief Thad Lewis worked at the Riceville Volunteer Fire Department for about 39 years. He made the retirement announcement during the board's regular meeting.

The community center fell silent as Lewis handed out letters announcing his retirement.

"I am giving my two-week notice," Lewis said.

The silence was extinguished by a speech from Lewis.

"I was blessed enough to be the fire chief," Lewis said.

Lewis was fired up with gratitude toward members of the department.

"The folks that I have worked with, over the years, have done a great job," Lewis said.

He was then fuming over problems with some board members after various incidents, like wrong meeting dates posted online.

"I wasn't given the opportunity to even question whether it was right or wrong. It was an automatic accusation that what I was doing wasn't good enough," Lewis said.

After letting his comments simmer with the audience, he received a standing ovation on his way out of the meeting.

Lewis' speech lit a fire under some members of the audience who started questioning board members about controversies, like board members voting on the phone to loan Skyland firefighters $150,000 in 2017.

Several of the audience members also accused board members of causing Lewis' retirement.

"Which one of you board people don't like Thad? That's what I want to know," an audience member said.

Some members of the board fired back at members of the audience.

"Excuse me. I will speak and allow you to speak, when it is time to do so," one board member said.

Board members eventually went into executive session to discuss Lewis' surprise announcement.

Lewis said his last day will be Jan. 26.

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