Houston Mesa Fire District Seeks New Chief

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After coming out of retirement 10 years ago to help the conflict-ridden Houston Mesa Fire District, Chief Chuck Jacobs has now walked away due to failed contract negotiations.

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Chuck Jacobs

Infighting brought Jacobs to the small, volunteer fire district back in 2000 and now has helped propel his departure.

When Jacobs’ annual employment contract with the Houston Mesa Fire District (HMFD) expired on Jan. 1, the district’s governing board offered him a new agreement for 2011. Jacobs said the offer “was not something I felt that I could accept. I found it to be not only unreasonable, but insulting as well, so I chose to exercise my option to simply and quietly walk away, which is what I did,” Jacobs wrote in an e-mail.

Lori Webster, chair of the HMFD board, said she would not comment on the specifics of Jacobs’ contract or why he had left.

“I don’t know what his true issues were, but we made an offer through 2012 and that was obviously not accepted,” she said.

The district is moving on with its search for a new fire chief.

“We anticipate hiring a new chief and having him or her on board within the next 30 days,” she added.

In the last decade, the HMFD has had its fair share of unrest.

On Jan. 20, 2000, Jacobs came out of retirement to take over as interim administrator of the then-Mesa del Caballo fire board. The Gila County Board of Supervisors appointed Jacobs administrator after the entire fire board resigned due to infighting.

At the time, the district had eight volunteer fire and medical responders, three recruits and a small support staff.

Then in January of 2004, Jacobs replaced the district’s former fire chief Frank Hansen after Hansen was accused of improper use of fire district funds.

As a first-time, non-violent offender, Hansen entered a diversion program and has since agreed to pay the HMFD $925 and Glatfelter’s Claim Management $7,553, said Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.

“The deferred program allows the state to ensure that justice is served by obtaining restitution for the victim and making the defendant accountable for his/her actions by his/her admission and program requirements,” she said in an e-mail.

Jacobs resigned in 2007 when Hellsgate Fire took over the district. Six months later, when that contract ended, Jacobs became chief again.

Before working part-time with HMFD, Jacobs served 22 years with the Payson Fire Department as chief. He retired from the PFD in 1998. Now for the second time, Jacobs is back in retirement.

The HMFD board said they have moved on, already interviewing one candidate for fire chief with two more interviews scheduled this week.

“As part of the final interview process, we have asked Chief (Marty) deMasi of the Payson Fire Department to participate,” Webster said.

In the interim, Capt. Russ Russell and lieutenants Mike Weller and Matt Havey are overseeing operations. The district has an additional eight volunteers, including five EMTs and one  paramedic. Three volunteers are taking their EMT nationals next month.

“We only have one paid position, which is the fire chief. We are a small department and do not have support staff,” Webster said.

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