by Adam Klawonn
roundup reporter intern
A political power struggle smoldering around the Mesa del Caballo Fire Department flared up Wednesday, prompting the three-member fire board to resign and forcing the county to hire an outside administrator.
Board members Bill Dawes and Ed Blose tendered their resignations Wednesday during an emergency meeting at the Mesa del Caballo Community Center, joining Ed Christian, who gave his notice Monday. All three of their resignations are effective today (Friday).
The three board members had difficulty operating in unison because of verbal attacks from small factions within the community, Blose said, and Mesa del Fire Chief Frank Hansen refused to cooperate with various board requests.
"We did not want to work with people who continue to bicker and argue," Blose said. "I've tried to pacify the situation, but it's impossible."
Dawes, who handed in his resignation Wednesday during the meeting, declined to comment.
Christian could not be reached for comment.
Hansen, Mesa del's fire chief since January, said a core group of firefighters is prepared to stay on to keep response times down despite the political upheaval in the department. He added that Blose caused various disruptions within the board which caused all three members to step down.
Splinter groups in the community are using the fire department as a "bouncing ball" to antagonize one another, Hansen said, and they've kept the department from reaching its full potential.
"My function is to make sure the fire department survives and that it serves the people of Mesa del," the chief said. "If we could get the damn politics out of it, then maybe we could finally move forward."
As far as the department's future administration goes, the final say rests with Gila County Supervisor Ron Christensen. According to state statutes, he must appoint an administrator for the Mesa del Fire Department within 30 days, or an immediate election must be held to replace the board.
But due to the mudslinging that marred past elections, Christensen said he is loathe to stir the community up again with another public contest.
"It's unfortunate that the educated and well-reputed people that are involved have reduced this to the level of juveniles," he said. "In the next few days, we will be searching for someone outside the community with administrative experience who will remain neutral in this thing."
The board's resignation is only the latest chapter in a story of contentious politics that has plagued the Mesa del Fire Department for more than a decade, other fire officials said. Payson Fire Chief John Ross and Diamond Star Fire Chief Greg Hatch said fire board problems have continued to trouble the little community.
"I would like to see the political unrest stop and a board come in with the best interests of its citizens in mind," Ross said. "Those squabbles have led to many inconsistencies in board decisions and a high attrition rate for Mesa del fire officials."
Nevertheless, Mesa del's mutual aid agreement with nine regional fire departments will remain intact, and the community's closest partners -- Pine-Strawberry, Diamond Star and Payson Fire Department -- have vowed to help in the event of an emergency.
It's disappointing the community can't handle its own problems and the county must create a paid position to oversee the department, Christensen said.
"There's been a lot of abusive language and behavior that has escalated this," he said. "We need some cooler heads there to work through this problem."