UPDATE: Policy changes to Chattanooga Fire Department after firefighter arrested
The firefighter has been placed on leave without pay as the investigation continues, and now faces additional charges.
UPDATE: The Chattanooga Fire Department says changes to the employee handbook were already in the works -- but could be completed much faster now that a firefighter is in jail facing robbery and drug charges.
Fire Chief Chris Adams said he had no idea Steven Ratledge had been driving on a suspended license since January 1, 2015, but says Ratledge is not a certified driver for the department and was never behind the wheel of a fire truck.
Department policy said it's the employee's responsibility to tell their supervisor if their license gets suspended, one of several policies that could soon change.
"I think it did really open our eyes a little wider to know something could go on and we would have missed it, even though we're living that closely with one another," Chief Adams said.
Police found three grams of heroin in Ratledge's car after the crash and Ratledge was treated by EMS for a possible drug overdose.
The officer on scene also noticed track marks on the side of his arm, and a syringe fall out of Ratledge's shorts.
Chief Adams said there were no signs or suspicions Ratledge had been using drugs at work, and believes it would have been obvious if he was.
"When they're impaired they can't touch their nose let alone put a face piece on and put their regulator in so I don't think that was an issue," Chief Adams said.
The department had already been working on changes to the new employee handbook and said this case shows the need for more policies.
Chief Adams said they will soon offer a training program to help firefighters detect the warning sings of drug use or personal struggles their coworkers might be facing.
"We're here to help the public so we want to make sure that's what we're doing," Chief Adams said, "And if someone has a personal issue let's find it, let's get them some help."
Ratledge passed a drug test when he was hired as a firefighter three and a half years ago.
The only time employees are further tested, is if they're involved in an accident.
Chief Adams said that policy will soon change.
"We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't occur again in our history," he said.
He's meeting with the city attorney on Friday to talk about implementing random drug testing for all employees.
Ratledge is still being held at the Hamilton County Jail. He is scheduled to appear in court next week.
During the course of this investigation, Ratledge has been placed on leave without pay from the fire department.
UPDATE: Chattanooga Police have filed additional charges against a Chattanooga firefighter accused of robbing a convenience store.
On Wednesday, police charged Steven Ratledge with driving under the influence, driving on a revoked or suspended license, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
According to court records, when an officer responded to the scene where Ratledge crashed his car he noted Ratledge showing “obvious signs of opiate use”. The officer also noticed a syringe fall out of Ratledge’s shorts on scene.
Officers found 3 grams, or approximately 30 doses, of heroin in Ratledge’s vehicle. Police also found drug paraphernalia and items connected to the armed robbery.
Ratledge was charged with driving on a suspended license after officers discovered his driver’s license was suspended in January 2015.
Ratledge had already been booked at the Hamilton County Jail on an aggravated robbery charge for allegedly robbing a man at knifepoint just 10 minutes after finishing his shift at a Hixson fire station where he worked.
Ratledge will answer to the new charges against him in court on May 10. He’s being held at the Hamilton County Jail on a $50,000 bond.
PREVIOUS STORY: The Raceway employee who was the victim of the robbery was back at work Monday morning. He told Channel 3 he is still shaken up from the incident, it was one of the scariest moments of his life and he hopes to never go through a situation like that again.
The employee says shortly after 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, a man with a blue bandana covering his face came into the store with a knife and demanded money from the cash register.
The victim says the man told him he didn't want to hurt him, he just wanted the money.
The suspect left with $216 in cash.
Hours later, Chattanooga firefighter Steven Kyle Ratledge was arrested for the crime.
Fire Chief Chris Adams says it's a phone call he never expected to receive. “Never a problem at all out of him, in his entire career here. He's been here about 3 1/2 years. A young guy, with a family. It was pretty shocking to get that phone call and hear that name,” said Chief Adams.
The 27-year-old owns a home in Soddy Daisy with his wife and two young children. Neighbors and family members are in disbelief hearing about his arrest.
Ratledge completed his work shift at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. Just 10 minutes later, and less than a mile away from Fire Station 19, the robbery was reported.
Police said Ratledge entered the convenience store on Hixson Pike, made a purchase and left. A few minutes later a man entered the store wearing a hoodie with a bandana covering his face.
“The tennis shoes and shorts matched the description of a firefighter who came in earlier.” While the fire chief learned more about a robbery possibly involving one of his men, he got another call that Ratledge was involved in an accident on Highway 153.
“They were on the scene and said he was going in and out of consciousness. So he was transported to North Park Hospital.”
According to police, Ratledge crashed his car on Hwy 153 shortly after the robbery.
Inside his car police found cash covering the two front seats, a blue bandana, Carhartt hoodie and a pocketknife.
It's still not clear what caused the crash. Chattanooga Police say they took a blood draw from Ratledge to test for drugs or alcohol.
After questioning the firefighter, police transported him to the Hamilton County Jail and charged him with aggravated robbery.
“Normally they would get 8 days administrative leave while we review the different evidence presented," Chief Adams said, "But today with the police getting a report and the info they gave, we determined to put him off leave without pay.”
Chief Adams said he is disappointed by Ratledge's actions, “Public trust is our number one blood line, it is a crucial blow to the fire department... gut wrenching.” But he won't let it distract from the department's commitment to protect and serve the community. “There's a misstep every now and then but our firefighters are going to give all they can to protect the citizens of Chattanooga.”
Steven Ratledge will make his first appearance in court on May 17th. He remains in the Hamilton County Jail on a $50,000 bond. The robbery is still under investigation.
PREVIOUS STORY: A Chattanooga firefighter was arrested for robbery Sunday morning.
Chattanooga Police responded to a convenience store at the 5400 block of Hixson Pike on a report of a robbery. The suspect was described as a white male with a brown hoodie and a blue bandana.
Police said a short time after the robbery, they were dispatched to a single vehicle accident in the 300 block of northbound Hwy 153. Police confirmed the vehicle matched the one by a robbery suspect. The suspect, Steven Ratledge, 27, was taken into custody and transported from the scene of the accident to a local hospital.
Chattanooga Fire Department later confirmed that Steven Ratledge was assigned to Station 19 in Hixson and has been with the department for about three and half years. CFD says Ratledge has been placed on leave without pay as the investigation continues.
Ratledge was transported from the hospital to the Hamilton County Jail where has been charged with Aggravated Robbery.