Some say the dismissals could not have happened at a worse time.
"Well, the policy is the policy," said Knightdale Town Manager Seth Lawless.
Lawless said he was just going by the book when he made the call to fire three local firefighters after a staffer discovered they had relatives also on the town's payroll, which is a violation of Knightdale's nepotism policy.
Lawless had never used the policy before and some question whether the rule should apply to volunteers.
"Well it does, because our volunteer firefighters are considered employees," said Lawless.
There are about 20 firefighters on the force in Knightdale. Many of them are paid but some are volunteers. The firings deplete the ranks even further and the move comes at a time when the department needs every able body it can get.
Knightdale is averaging 100 fire calls a month, which is a record number for the town. Some question whether the town can afford to be firing first-responders.
Councilman Jeff Eddins had called the firings, "hasty" and "unnecessary." Now, he's working to fix what he thinks were unintended consequences of the nepotism rule.
"It was a town policy but what we didn't think through was how it affected the volunteers and the fire department," said Eddins.
An effort is underway to revise the rule and exempt volunteer firefighters. But after all the controversy, no one is certain they'll want to come back.