Two letters were printed in the paper related to the vote to create the position of battalion chief at the Oct. 26 meeting. Three board members felt that this action was in the best interest of providing better emergency service to our residents. I was one of those three-to-two “yes” votes. Because of our dreaded property taxes, let’s first look at the cost. These positions will be filled by promoting personnel from within our own fire department.
Even if the highest paid nine members were advanced, the cost was projected to $22,000. In Jessica Barnett’s “guest comment” she correctly stated that we did not replace the business manager who recently retired. At that time, I rather reluctantly agreed to give those responsibilities to the chief and administrative assistant.
This has proven to be a sound financial decision. The chief and his current staff do a most professional job. At this time, I see no reason to hire a business manager at a cost of $60,000 to $70,000 including benefits. Mrs. Barnett further states “Chief has found time to leave the district for up to two weeks added time for out-of-district wildland fire assignments.” True, but what she failed to report was how much this district received for sending men and equipment to those fires.
In 2008, that figure was $48,107.84 and in 2009 year-to-date we are at $32,370.95. That’s $80,478.79 net income to our department. Though not cost issues, there are two other considerations here. First, it is not “if” but “when” that fire is in one of our own canyons. We’ll need that wildland firefighting training and experience. Second, some of those out-of-district calls for help were from our neighbors.
Back to cost savings, this board also voted not to replace a 40-hour per week mechanic by having firefighters perform minor repairs with hopes to save cost with outside (local) mechanics. Having said that, our present payroll budget was $35,000 less than the previous fiscal year.
The second letter penned by Lisa Sieracki needs to be addressed only because of her choice to include “freedom of speech” and “civil rights” in her letter. This one hurts because I chair this board and have always allowed much leniency to people who wish to speak.
We open our meetings with a call to the public and Mrs. Sieracki freely voiced her opinion (objection) to the battalion chief question on the agenda. “Freedom of speech” does not mean shouting out during a board discussion with a motion on the floor. Yes, a board member did ask her to control herself, but no, she was not asked to leave, nor did anyone “call the police.” About the only factual statement in her letter was her being “recently terminated” by this board. Because her “civil rights” are protected, I cannot speak to that. However, I can refute her other vindictive comments. Her replacement was not an unskilled “20-year housewife who could not run computer programs.”
There are rarely totally black and white answers to many questions. I understand the feeling related to no wage increase in the 2009 fiscal year budget, then implementing this position, however, the majority of our firefighters are eligible to apply for this promotion. Those who have completed their Task Book training have earned that right.
So why would we vote to add the position of battalion chief? For myself, it was not because I thought that our chief was overworked. It was because of how the position would benefit our fire district. Our fire captains are not stand-around “middle management,” but are working, hands-on firefighters and paramedics. Because we so often have simultaneous emergency calls, I felt that having a battalion chief to oversee the entire district’s safety and coverage would free the captains who were directly involved with their emergency incident. This was also a recommendation which was approved in our 2007 five-year plan.
Fire board meetings are held at the department’s Pine station on the third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. You are welcome to come in person rather that getting “hear-say” at the barber shop or elsewhere. This issue was blown way out of proportion. Our district has a fire insurance rating of “Class 5” which is the best we can receive in a community without fire hydrants. Our department responds to approximately 90 percent medical emergencies and if you call 9-1-1 you will get professional, paramedic help. You have five elected, unpaid board members who do not always agree, but be assured, that all five vote as to what they feel is in our district’s best interest.
Pine Strawberry Fire Board chairman