By a 3-2 vote, the Pine-Strawberry Fire Board has reversed its original decision to create three new battalion chief positions, which would have provided extra support for the fire department during multiple calls, but also cost an extra $22,000.
The action took place Dec. 14 at a heated meeting attended by about 70 residents of the two tiny, mountain hamlets.
Although both sides of the controversial issue were present at the meeting, Fire Board President Dave Prechtel estimated the majority of those in attendance were opposed to the creation of the battalion chief positions. In a heated discussion, about 10 people addressed the chief and board. While some spoke against the positions, others made suggestions on how to improve communication between board members and townspeople.
In October, the board approved three new battalion chief positions at the request of Fire Chief Bob Lashua.
Lashua defended the request, saying they were necessary to keep the department running safely and were outlined in the department’s five-year plan.
The creation of the new positions, which would have gone into effect April 2010, would have assured someone was always available to oversee emergency situations throughout the district, especially when more than one call was going on.
With battalion chiefs, “there would be one person a shift supervising over both stations and district,” he said.
However, many in the community disagreed that the battalion chiefs were needed, and a firestorm of protests erupted from community members and former fire department employees.
Residents argued the pay increases were a bold contradiction to the decision the board made last fall to make no cost-of-living adjustments or merit raises in the budget.
At Monday’s meeting, it was Lashua who surprisingly submitted a request to withdraw the creation of what would have essentially added a battalion chief to each shift.
Lashua said he withdrew the request for the new positions, “due to the economic times” promising “we are going to find a better way to do it without the costs.”
The board was split on the issue, but ultimately, Prechtel cast the deciding vote.
Had the board not reversed its original decision, the three new positions would have ultimately resulted in nine employees being promoted and receiving pay raises.
The promotions would have come with a 5-percent raise, costing the department an extra $22,000 a year.
Even without the new positions, Lashua promised there would be no drop-off in the department’s level of services.
“The job is going to get done,” he said.
One way to accomplish this is make captains take on more responsibility to cover the district, without the promotional raise, Lashua said.