Friday, July 25, 2014

Poor communication fuels fiery debate

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/19/2014

RICHMOND — Emotions were hot Monday night at a special meeting of the Richmond City-Township Fire District Board.

Volunteer firefighters showed up to show their disapproval of new policy recently enacted by the fire board without the firefighters’ knowledge or input, Frank Guilfoyle, volunteer firefighter, said.

RICHMOND — Emotions were hot Monday night at a special meeting of the Richmond City-Township Fire District Board.

Volunteer firefighters showed up to show their disapproval of new policy recently enacted by the fire board without the firefighters’ knowledge or input, Frank Guilfoyle, volunteer firefighter, said.

Trying to save money, the fire board was considering selling some of the district’s emergency response vehicles. But because they didn’t talk to local fire officials and other firefighters, Steve Weese, Richmond fire chief, said, the board was going to get rid of needed vehicles.

Along with only keeping one fire truck and two grass trucks, the fire board’s new policy also said the department would not respond to situations outside of the Richmond fire district without dispatch by the Franklin County Sheriff’s dispatch, according to the policy letter the board sent to firefighters. It also stated the department would not request to be dispatched to any call, as that would reduce dispatch’s ability to properly manage fire situations.

The new policy also stated all purchases of more than $500 would have to be pre-approved by the board, and a spending limit of $3,000 would be placed on firefighters collectively until July 1.

The problem with the new policies, Phil Augustine, assistant fire chief, said, was that board members had not spoken to the fire chief or himself before making decisions about the new policy, and they were not aware of the department’s equipment needs.

“In your own words, you said you didn’t have a clue what this department had,” Augustine said to Charles Hirt, fire board clerk. “You had no clue what the trucks were, the shape they were in. If you are going to serve the public trust as the members of this department, would it not be incumbent upon you to come down to the department and ask the fire chief or assistant chief, ‘What do we got? How are things going?’ And work with us as a team?”

The department currently has seven vehicles, Weese said, consisting of three pumper trucks and four grass fire trucks.

Getting rid of all but two of the grass fire trucks would mean selling one of the trucks that had been donated to the department, Weese said, as three of the four grass trucks were donated. The Kansas Forestry Service donated two grass trucks and Southern Star Gas Service donated the other.

“That’s why it was disheartening to us when we just get a truck donated to us that’s going to save us a fortune ... and then we get a letter the next day that says, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re gonna go down to two [grass] trucks,” Weese said. “Why would you get rid of a truck that was donated for $15,000?”

A misunderstanding between the Franklin County Sheriff’s dispatch, the Richmond fire department and the Richmond fire board led to the portion of the policy that stated the department wouldn’t respond to fires without first being dispatched, Bob Cardell, fire board president, said

“We was told that [the fire department] went up to Wellsville,” Cardell said. “[Franklin County dispatch] said they didn’t dispatch the department.”

Weese said that was incorrect and that he had the report from Franklin County dispatch showing the Richmond fire department had been toned out to go to a call in Wellsville.

Not being able to request a dispatch would cause problems and likely more damage in the event of a fire, Augustine said, as it would require Richmond firefighters to call in a fire if they’d come into contact with one, and then wait to be called out.

“It would be like if I was coming from Princeton and I saw a grass fire or structure fire and I got on my car radio and told dispatch that we have a structure fire,” Augustine said. “Basically I’m asking dispatch to tone out anybody, whether it’s us, Princeton, Pomona, Cutler — anybody.”

The board and firefighters agreed their common goal was to save money, and there had been some miscommunication and misunderstanding on both ends.

Since not responding to a fire unless the department was dispatched already is a set policy, Weese said, he thought the only part of that policy that should change would be that the department not request to be dispatched.

Agreeing with Weese, the board voted to take the dispatch portion of the policy out, as well as to keep three grass trucks and one pumper, but to sell the remaining two pumpers and one grass truck on an auction site to add money back into the budget.

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