Image: Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Elise Noriega, who has never had any fire training, and receives $142,000 per year, plus other benefits.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Magnolia, March 2 – Sex, diamonds, and the misuse of public funds have besmirched the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) and created a leadership mess, as a result of the actions of former Fire Chief Gary Vincent whom the Board of Directors has placed on leave of absence prior to termination. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed that the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is investigating financial improprieties by Vincent and possibly other personnel with the MVFD.
An Assistant Fire Chief, Chuck Grant, whom Vincent recently terminated, has brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Department claiming that Vincent terminated him in retaliation for Grant’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities.
Vincent, who remains married to his wife, served as the Fire Chief for MVFD, which sits prominently on Buddy Riley Boulevard in Magnolia, for over 12 years. Vincent began an extramarital relationship with realtor Elize Noriega in 2018, according to several employees and former employees in MVFD who spoke with this newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. In June, 2019, however, Vincent hired Noriega as a Battalion Chief specializing in “communications” at a salary of $123,000 per year. Noriega had no background in firefighting but was to run the MVFD’s Facebook page and communications on NextDoor.
In November, 2020, Vincent promoted his lover, Noriega, to Assistant Fire Chief with a base salary of $142,000. Grant contends in his whistleblower lawsuit that Vincent consulted with no other individuals within MVFD before he made any of the hiring decisions with respect to Noriega. Grant also contends that Noriega has a “history of alcohol abuse and violent behavior as well as a criminal record.”
In September, 2019, Vincent and Noriega traveled with other employees from MVFD to Washington, D.C., supposedly for a business trip. During the trip, Vincent proposed marriage to Noriega and gave her a diamond engagement ring, even though Vincent was still married to his current spouse. Noriega regularly wore the diamond ring to the MVFD office and told her co-employees that Vincent had given it to her.
Grant, who is suing Vincent and MVFD in a case pending in the 284th District Court in Conroe, claims that Vincent terminated Grant on December 14, 2020, “because Mr. Vincent found out that he [Grant] had spoken with an investigator from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office about Mr. Vincent’s misconduct.” Grant was a 5-year veteran of the Department and a 31-year certified Texas firefighter. Grant had no disciplinary history with the Department.
The romantic relationship between Vincent and Noriega and a number of Vincent’s personnel decisions plunged the Volunteer Fire Department into a very stressful work environment, according to several employees who currently or previously worked there. Vincent’s decision to hire his lover, who had no firefighting background, and pay her more than Fire Captains, Battalion Chiefs, and other Assistant Chiefs caused enormously negative feelings among the firefighters who were to work under his leadership.
The Golden Hammer sought comment from MVFD with respect to the content of this article. Since Noriega has continued in her job as Communications Director, it is not surprising that the Department failed to respond.