While going through the N&O web site, I ran across this article about the Selma Fire Department. I understand the operations of a municipal fire department, having worked with one for four and a half years prior to taking a job to do fire and rescue at a local university. I see the petty politics of this and its effect on the town. I read an article on this topic over a year ago. If there will be a candidate for Town Council that will have a degree of qualification to work with a situation like this, it will be me. I have about nine years experience in the fire field, including a degree in Fire Protection.
Published: Dec 30, 2004
Modified: Dec 30, 2004 3:05 AM
Selma hears firefighters' issues
The town appoints a committee to study concerns that have strained relations with the volunteer group
By MANDY LOCKE, Staff Writer
SELMA -- A band of Selma firefighters nearly tossed their boots into the laps of the mayor and town council members Wednesday night and abandoned their posts as the town's volunteer force.
But cooler heads prevailed as council members appointed a joint committee to examine the sticking points between the two camps.
For several months, the volunteers -- 23 strong -- have been in a tug-of-war with town leaders over what the firefighters say is needless meddling in their affairs.
The town manager said the department had been operating without liability insurance, and town leaders were trying to fix that.
The firefighters say the council -- without warning -- imposed three pages' worth of ordinances on the department. They learned of the new ordinances from firefighters in a neighboring town who had been asked to run Selma's fire calls if their volunteers quit, they said.
But the biggest rub to firefighters was the change in status of the fire chief. Council members and the mayor want to hire a paid chief -- a move they say is unavoidable as the town grows. Volunteer firefighters want to elect one from their ranks, just as they have for decades.
"We are growing, and this is part of our growing pains," Mayor Harry Blackley Jr. said.
The feud came to a head Wednesday night in an emergency meeting. "To me, it sounds like y'all want us to quit," Lt. Mike Kendall told the Selma council.
Selma's volunteer fire department acts more like a national guard in its district of 10,000 residents. Its call load, which hit 47 this month, includes house fires, freeing trapped passengers from wrecked vehicles, cleaning up storm debris, directing traffic at wreck scenes, and hanging Christmas lights along downtown streets. Firefighters are paid with a monthly laundry stipend, health care benefits and good will.
If the department's ranks shrink below 18, Selma's fire rating will falter. This means a severe spike in homeowner's insurance, said Travis Heath, assistant fire chief. It would take three years of consistent staffing to restore their current rating, he said.
How the bickering reached a standoff is anyone's guess; everyone involved has a theory.
Some firefighters blamed Blackley, who they say is still sore about having lost three times in a campaign to be elected fire chief. There has been talk lately of kicking the mayor off the volunteer department he has served since 1972, Kendall said.
"Four years ago, somebody wanted a change in the leadership of our department, and it didn't happen," Joe Moore, former mayor and veteran fireman, told the group. "Things went kind of sour. There was a split in the department."
The mayor does not deny his attempts to unseat fire chief Joe Price, who is also the town's water and sewer manager.
"I didn't agree with Selma's fire chief moving 10 miles out of town, and I wanted to make a point," said Blackley, who was elected mayor three years ago.
It didn't help matters when the department's officers voted to kick the mayor's son, Brian Blackley off the squad for failing to show up to calls and having a bad attitude, Kendall said.
Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or email@example.com.