Friday, June 08, 2007

Our so called firefighters disgust me

I got a phone call from a Selma citizen this morning telling me about the latest news regarding our town's fire department. I had heard rumors that this was going to happen. Ten volunteer "firefighters" have quit the Selma fire department and dumped their turn out gear at the mayor's house last night. When I checked The Selma News just to see if they heard about it, the story was on their front page. Thank you, Kelly.

I want to preface what I am about to write with some qualifications to be able to say something. I started in the fire service at age 14 when I got involved with a very active Explorer Post in Franklin, New Hampshire. I was in that organization for the rest of my teen years into college. I became the youngest certified firefighter in the State of New Hampshire. Before I could legally drive a car, I was a certified firefighter. I got first aid training sufficient to allow me to ride along with the ambulance. I was a certified dispatcher taking 911 calls (we didn't have 911 service yet, but you get the idea) and was even paid by that city to do so at age 16. I put in more hours of training than every firefighter who was in the call ranks.

I earned a degree in Fire Protection from New Hampshire Vocational Technical College in Laconia, New Hampshire. With that degree, I was hired by North Carolina State University to work as a life safety inspector. My duties included fire and rescue, fire inspections, code enforcement, public fire education, incident command, and a host of other duties.

The bottom line behind saying any of this is that I know what it takes to be a firefighter and what sort of attitude it takes. I know the dedication required to serve your community in saving lives and property. I was around a bunch of guys who lived, breathed, and slept the fire service. They were dedicated to saving lives and property.

The Town of Selma has had a problem with its fire department for a long time. They were run as an autonomous group for years. Then we were told that they were a town department but not run like one. They also handled most of their own finances in several bank accounts over which the town had no oversight. The town was dumping money into the fire department but there was no accountability to the town. One thing that is for certain is that the fire department was and still is a political organization, a social club for "good ol' boys", and a very closed system.

Several years ago, there was some turmoil and strife between department members and former mayor Harry Blackley. This may or may not have contributed to Mr. Blackley's loss of the last mayoral election. There is a long, drawn out story of the politics there, but I am not going to get into that. I probably have some details wrong, anyway.

The fire chief, Joe Price, is also the head of the town's water department. I don't have a problem with the concept that the town's water department manager is also the volunteer fire chief. I do, however, have a problem with the idea that the fire chief is 1. elected from amongst the ranks of the department by its members, and 2. lives 10 miles outside the town's fire district. Since I have not been a member of the fire department personally, I can not attest to Mr. Price's abilities as a chief one way or the other.

What I will say is that the head of a life safety organization such as the local fire department should never be selected by the membership of the department. The fire department is a town department, and is to be run by the town. That means that the fire service should report to the town manager and should be beholden to the town council's oversight. It is, after all, town business and tax money.

The fire department, besides having the responsibility for offering protection for the town's citizens, also has a part to play in the insurance ratings that all property owners pay. We pay taxes for this service, as well. People outside the town limits yet within the fire district all pay fire taxes to benefit the department.

It takes a special type of person to be a public servant that is willing to drop everything in order to rush to an emergency with the added possibility of risking live and limb for the benefit of others. It takes an even more special breed of person to do this as a volunteer. I know that type of person, have been around that sort of people, and have been that sort of person myself.

I want to make this point loud and clear. If ten men are willing to quit the fire department because they don't like the idea of the town attempting to make the fire department into a better organization, serve the populace of Selma better, and offer a higher degree of service, then they are not that sort of people I just mentioned. To quit over a political issue rather than look for the best interest of the town, then there is no dedication to protecting life and property; but rather the interest is in the "good ol' boy system" that they feed off from.

Personally, I say good riddance to the firefighters who are willing to be so petty and walk out over such a petty thing as actually looking at a progressive approach to enhancing town services. I don't personally know them. What I do know is that their actions do not reflect those of dedicated public servants that care about saving lives and property in their community. Actually, their actions disgust me.

Here is the Selma News article online:
Nearly half of the 25-member Selma Fire Department walked out Thursday night following a meeting at the fire station.

Ten active members delivered their turnout gear to Mayor Charles Hester's home and left them lining the driveway without a note of resignation or call to anyone, according to Town Manager Stan Farmer.

Names on the gear included three members who are also full-time employees in other town departments. They are Billy Baker, Gary Gainey, and Greg Hooks.

Others included Winston "Buddy" Whitley, Alvin (TJ) Health, Ronnie Lee Jr., Ronald Stanley, Mark Green, Thomas Harper, and Mike Kendall.

One retired member of the department Joe Moore, also left his turnout gear at the Mayor's home, leaving town officals asking why a retired fireman would have such equipment in his possession.

Talk of such a walk-out has been rumored since The Selma News broke the news that $55,000 had been included in the 2007-2008 town budget for the hire of a new full-time fire chief.

Members of the department say the town has done longtime fire chief Joe Price, who has been a member of the department for more than 40 years, wrong.

They say the department has been pushing for the hire of a full-time person, an engineer, that will handle the day-to-day maintenance of fire trucks and equipment.

One said the town can't expect a paid fire chief to handle the "grunt" work that an engineer would do, nor can it depend solely on volunteers with full-time jobs outside the department to handle such things.

Mayor Hester said Friday morning that he has the turnout gear locked up on his property.

Farmer said he prepared separation papers for each of the 10 active firemen Friday morning on the basis of conduct unbecoming and disregard for town property (leaving the turnout gear unattended in public.)

Those papers are on hold for the time being. Farmer said that Price knew nothing about the walk out Thursday night and asked the town manager for one more meeting between ire department officers and town officials to come to an agreement before the separation papers are made official.

Farmer said Town Councilman Eric Sellers will mediate a meeting between the town manager and fire department officers. That meeting is tentatively set for Wednesday.

By the way, I don't believe for a moment that Joe Price had no idea about the walk out. I also noticed that the men in question didn't have the balls to formally resign.


Here is what one Selma News reader commented on that news story:
timmy strfickland •

Obviously, I strongly disagree.

A few other quotes from other readers on The Selma News web site are below. I can not honestly believe that people actually believe that dumping off your turnout gear at night in someone's driveway and ignoring the town's population in preference over political manuveuring is actually courage. It is just the opposite. And NO, I doubt that Charles Hester is feeling low and embarrassed right now over this.

I DO agree with the comment below about the 8% pay hike, though. Not a good idea when town employees that have been here for years only get 2.5% and the town manager is the highest paid employee in town as it is.

I am TIRED of reading that a fire engineer would be best for the town. That is a purely political and a "workings behind the scenes" sort of mindset. If the chief of a small town department who is the only man on the payroll can not drive a truck and operate a pump, he doesn't need to be on the payroll and is not a good chief. A full time employee also does not need to be reporting to a part time chief. Sorry, but that is just ludricrous. A good chief can serve both functions whereas an engineer can not. A dedicated fire crew will back up a good chief REGARDLESS of whether they agree with the politics behind his tenure. Ignorant wives of disgruntled volunteers will merely parrot what they hear, as evidenced below.

Tracy •
JUN 08 • I am proud of those who could stand up for what they believe in as a department and not be cowards. A paid Fire engineer would be in the best interest of the Town of Selma. This is the reason we moved from Selma...the selfish acts of the Mayor, Town Manager (8% increase in his own pay) and Town Council. The ones who risk their lives for us everyday are nearly seen as nobody's.

judy price •
JUN 08 • Wow!! Mr. Hester must be feeling pretty low and embarassed right about now....


Here is WMPM's take on the story.
Half Of Selma Firefighters Quit During Dispute With Town - Half of the 25-member Selma Fire Department walked off the job Thursday night, upset over their treatment by Selma Mayor Charles Hester and Town Manager Stan Farmer. About a dozen members left their firefighting gear in the driveway of Mayor Hester. But before doing so, they notified surrounding fire departments Selma didn’t have enough personnel to respond to fire calls, and other departments would need to handle their calls. Farmer said due to their “immature and unprofessional act” they were terminated Friday morning. One of the key issues is whether Selma firemen are town employees or volunteers. Assistant Chief Mike Kendall said the department’s bylaws say they are volunteers who donate their time to the department, and elect their own chief and officers. Town officials contend they are part-time employees since they receive $70 to $90 a month for reimbursement for fuel and clothes laundering. And since they are paid, city officials contend they are a city department. Firemen say they are not a part of town government. Assistant Chief Kendall said Fire Chief Joe Price was asked not to attend Thursday night’s meeting. Price is a full-time wastewater supervisor for Selma and is their volunteer chief. Selma firemen are also upset the town is seeking to hire a full time fire chief, thus forcing Chief Price out. One firefighter said the dispute began when Mayor Hester ordered the fire department to paint the fire hydrants in town. They initially refused saying they were volunteers, but later used prison laborers to do the work. Friday, the dozen fired firefighters were asked to return to duty until a meeting with city officials could be arranged on Wednesday. The members agreed to return to duty, but no one knows what will happen after next Wednesday. Selma fire officials say they no longer trust the mayor or city manager and are not part of town government. Selma Manager Stan Farmer says they are, and will receive $234,000 in the upcoming budget.

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