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Liberty fire chief responds to allegations of drug use, sales at fire station

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Chief Gus Birch said firefighters have submitted drug tests, and those tests have come back negative

LIBERTY TWP., Ohio (WYTV) – Liberty Township Fire Chief Gus Birch released a statement in regard to allegations that some of his firefighters were using, trading and selling drugs on duty at the fire station.

He said the actions of a few firefighters do not represent the organization as a whole.

Birch’s statement says firefighters have been cooperating in an internal investigation, which started after the death of firefighter John Beard. According to that internal investigation, it was suspected that Beard died of a drug overdose, though a ruling hasn’t been made yet on his death.

As Liberty police started looking into the actions of other firefighters surrounding Beard’s death, they said they discovered drug activity within the fire department.

The report claims two lieutenants — Josh Cleland and Justin Graham — not only used drugs on the job, but they bought and sold them, too.

Disciplinary charges against Capt. Chris Olson accuse him of denying knowing what was going on. Investigators say text messages show he not only knew, but participated.

Cleland and Graham have since turned in their resignations, and Olson retired.

Capt. Inspector Cathy Macchione was demoted and placed on paid administrative leave as well, after text messages surfaced showing Macchione had texted Beard about drugs, investigators reported.

Chief Birch responded with the following statement:

Liberty Township Fire Department has been experiencing devastating events over the past few months. The members of the Liberty Township Fire Department have cooperated in the internal investigation.

All members of the Liberty Fire Department voluntarily submitted to drug testing and those results were negative.

The wrongful actions of a few are not reflective of the many hard-working dedicated firefighters of the Liberty Fire Department. Everyone can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to move forward and work through this ongoing investigation.

We recently had the Ohio Board of Pharmacy come in to evaluate and inspect the fire department to assure we are doing everything required by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy. We are attempted to continue to provide the service to the residents and visitors to Liberty Township to the best of our ability.

We will move forward and will do everything in our power to regain the confidence in the Liberty Township Fire Department.

Again, the actions of a few employees do not define the Liberty Township Fire Department or the fire service in general. Please understand this is an extremely hard time for the remaining members of our department, but we will persevere.

Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Gus Birch

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Mel Robbins Main Area Middle