Flames Of Controversy

P-S fire chief buyout fails

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Less than two months before his retirement, the Pine-Strawberry Fire District chief says his transition out has been anything but smooth.

At a May 26 fire board meeting, several members of the board voted to buyout Chief Bob Lashua’s last two months, asking him to walk away immediately. In a 3-2 vote, the measure failed and Lashua, a 27-year veteran of the department, will serve out his last days actively as chief.

Fire Board Chairman Dave Prechtel said he did not see the practicality of buying Lashua out, since the district would still have to pay Lashua’s salary and he would effectively get two months vacation.

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Bob Lashua

Lashua said he believes a small group of the community and fire board wanted to make operational changes to the district and hoped by voting him out they could make those changes with an interim chief before a new chief starts.

When a new chief starts, they normally wait several weeks before making any changes, Lashua said.

“Regardless of if you’re a fire department or a business, you always have some people that feel there is a different way of doing things,” Prechtel said. “As we progressed from a volunteer district to a full-time district, there is a nostalgia for doing things the way they were done before.”

Lashua said some people were unhappy with the staffing changes he made after the board voted against creating three, new battalion chief positions, which would have provided extra support during multiple calls, but also cost an extra $22,000.

When the initiative to create the positions failed, Lashua promoted three service captains to shift commanders, giving them more responsibility without a pay increase.

So far, Lashua said, the changes are working well.

No residents have complained about the district’s fire service, response times or medical service, Prechtel said.

“We provide quality medical service to the community,” he said.

Lashua said he saw the buyout coming, but was disappointed to see it happen, especially since the district is running more efficiently than ever.

As of April 30, the district has spent 70 percent of its proposed budget instead of 84 percent. In addition, revenues received are at 94 percent instead of 84 percent as budgeted and there is $738,000 in a reserve account and $494,000 in the general account.

Lashua said he is proud to leave the incoming chief with such a large reserve fund.

Lashua credits his staff for limiting their spending and an increase in ambulance and wildland fire revenue for the padded funds.

As a result, the board recently approved next year’s budget with a $157,000 decrease in spending. This decrease will lower the tax rate from $2.62 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value to $2.44 per $100,000.

The budget also allows for a 2 percent merit increase for all district employees, who did not see a raise this past fiscal year.

With Lashua’s last day July 31, the district is actively looking for a new chief. So far, the district has whittled 56 applicants down to 12.

A board — made up of two board members, two department members and two community members — is reviewing the applicants and plans to cut this number down to four or five candidates, which a panel of Arizona fire chiefs will review.

The P-S Fire Board will vote on a new chief based on their recommendations.

Prechtel said he would like to bring a new chief on board ideally two weeks before Lashua leaves, but does not know if that will happen.

After retirement, Lashua said he plans to continue working full time for Native Air as a flight medic and part time as a medic for the Blue Ridge Fire Department in Happy Jack.

“I personally believe he has been one of our best administrative chiefs that we have ever had,” Prechtel said.

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