[cifnmedia] Fire chief must prevail

  • From: <gmcgrath@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Sean Aaron" <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "Brad Dietrick" <bradfurniturefirst@xxxxxxxxxxx>, <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 12:16:48 -0400

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             Wednesday, July 28, 2004 

            Fire chief must prevail
            SFD changes are for the best


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              In summation 


                  The hostilities between the Salisbury fire chief and the 
volunteers at Station 2 have reached a point where neither side can back down. 
The chief, however, must be in charge. 
                   
                 

            The issues surrounding the hostility between the Salisbury Fire 
Department and the volunteer firefighters at Station 2 have become so clouded 
in emotion and rhetoric, it is becoming difficult to sort out what, exactly, is 
happening. And the issues are different, depending on who you ask.

            The bottom line issue seems to be who's in charge --the city fire 
chief or the volunteers?

            According to some Station 2 volunteers, there is a conspiracy afoot 
to do away with all volunteer firefighters. They see the chief --it doesn't 
seem to matter who the chief is -- as Public Enemy No. 1. Their arguments seem 
to revolve around the sacrifices they make as volunteer firefighters, how they 
only want to protect the community but are being prevented from doing so by the 
chief and the Salisbury mayor, how they are going to pack up their equipment 
and go home unless the city plays fair by their definition, how there will be 
no more volunteer firefighters in Salisbury if changes proposed by the chief to 
the municipal code are enacted.

            No one disputes the value of what firefighters do, whether 
volunteer or paid career members. Certainly the city would be in trouble if 
every volunteer firefighter chose to quit. The chief is the first to admit 
that. But this fight isn't about whether the community appreciates the 
volunteers or the service they provide. Arguing over what's theirs and what 
isn't doesn't further the cause of fighting fires.

            If you talk with the chief or any of the department administrators, 
you will hear a different story. The chief is trying to implement a process of 
change initiated by the former chief, who resigned over the turmoil raised by 
Station 2 volunteers when he attempted to restructure the chain of command. The 
changes were recommended years ago by in an independent audit report written to 
suggest ways to make the department operate more efficiently.

            The evidence supports the chief's insistence there is no intent to 
do away with volunteers. There are 105 volunteer firefighters in Salisbury, 
divided among three stations -- 35 per station. There are a total of 37 paid 
career firefighters. The changes proposed by the chief include adding 15 more 
volunteer positions to the roster, not eliminating positions. Other changes are 
designed to clarify the chain of command and to make all aspects of the city's 
fire service accountable to the chief.

            Station 2 was an all-volunteer company until 1968, when the career 
division of the department began providing weekday coverage at the station. The 
volunteer fire company remains a separate legal entity, and this is the source 
of most of the dissension. Station 2 volunteers are already engaged in two 
lawsuits against the city and threaten a third if the proposed changes are 
enacted.

            It's come to the point where nobody can back down. The city cannot 
give in if Station 2 is to continue functioning as part of the city's fire 
service. If the chief cedes control to the volunteers, he will no longer 
possess the authority he needs to run the department.

            The volunteers are not about to give in, either. They fervently 
believe they are in the right.

            Not all city volunteers agree with what is happening at Station 2. 
Although Station 2 spokesman have predicted the demise of volunteer 
firefighting in Salisbury if the changes go through, that is not what would 
happen. Some -- but not all -- volunteers will quit if they do not win. That is 
their choice.

            Salisbury will continue to operate with a combined volunteer-career 
fire department no matter what the outcome. While the volunteers who choose to 
leave the service will be missed, this will not spell the demise of the 
department or the volunteer division.

            Ideally, a compromise would be the way to resolve these issues. 
Sadly, that does not seem to be an option. Neither side is willing to bend. If 
compromise is not possible, the fire chief must prevail. Anyone who feels they 
cannot live with the changes will have to leave the fire service.

            It's unfortunate a lifetime of volunteer service must come to this, 
but that is where we are. 


            Originally published July 28, 2004

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