Disputes among firefighters and some board members burst into flame at Wednesday's meeting. The board, which serves the Heritage Lake area, is seeking a resolution to internal issues that have tempers flaring.
Township attorney Jean Hostetter presented a document for discussion that would create a paid chief position requiring additional duties, training and reports.
"It would create a contract between the firefighters which would give the chief the power to make volunteers accountable," Hostetter said.
Chief Richard Wood was visibly angry when he read the discussion document, shaking his head and eventually getting up and tossing it to members of the audience to read. Reaction was strong among the audience.
The board's objective is to find a way for accountability.
"If you have requirements for a volunteer fire department, you need someone to enforce accountability," board president Ted Salzman stated. "Paying the chief is one way to compensate him for all the responsibility the board would be putting on him," he added.
Chief Wood stated, "People who do this, enjoy doing it for nothing. This is crap. We do it because we love it."
The contract under discussion would require that a board-selected chief be paid and meet 14 requirements which include completing Fire Officer 1 certification and a strategy and facilities course within 90 days. It would also require training volunteers with an emphasis on EMS services; to know, teach and utilize the latest firefighting tactics; provide detailed written reports to the board of runs as well as provide 10 copies of budget requests for variations from the prior year's budget.
It also requires updated rosters of firefighters including general information as well as a report of yearly participation; a written recruitment plan showing costs and activities; annual maintenance logs for all equipment; enforcement of other policies and providing an "in depth" quarterly report of financial statements showing receipts, disbursements, balances, revenue and year to date expenditures.
Salzman asked for comments from the other board members who did not respond. Eventually board members voted to table the issue. The vote was 3-1 in favor of deferring the discussion until the next meeting.
Firefighters had presented board members with a list of concerns prior to the meeting, outlining what they viewed as issues within the department. This included budget and training issues, personnel problems and expectations for the department.
Salzman read through the list attempting to answer each concern. The discussion kicked-off with Wright asking about the donation of a boat from the Putnam County Prose-cutor's Asset Forfeiture Fund. Wright asked why the department had asked for a boat when they needed a thermal imaging camera. After some discussion the board responded that the boat was already there and it was time to move forward.
The next issue referenced secret meetings. Salzman's response was that all meetings have to be public except for executive meetings to discuss personnel issues. Members of the audience disagreed with Salzman stating that they believe meetings were conducted between some fire officers and board members.
This lead to a discussion regarding the enforcement of the chain of command before going to the board. Salzman stated that when a complaint was put before the board, they (the board) needed to respond to it.
He added, "It should have gone through the chain of command before it came to the board. But, we can't ignore it when it gets here."
Wright stated he felt the chain of command was being bypassed by officers of the fire department. Tempers flared as accusations were made that the department was being undermined by a few people. Salzman stated, "You have officers that undermine your chief already."
More hot exchanges followed concerning the appointment versus election of the chief. Salzman told the members "that if firefighters need to vote for the chief, that's fine. But, you need to change your bylaws to make that happen."
The subject of having a firefighter on the board of directors was approached by Wright. He was referring to Salzman who serves as a volunteer and on the board. Salzman who was attempting to answer the accusations of firefighters, grew increasingly frustrated and eventually, told the audience, "If you don't want me on the board, I'll quit. I'm tired of it and I'll get off the board or the department if you prefer."
Another board member chimed in, adding his frustration, "I gave up throwing a ball with my kid tonight to volunteer on this board. I have a new boat coming next week, I'm tired of this too."
A discussion ensued between board members regarding a motion to table the discussion for an executive meeting. Hostetter reminded them they could only discuss personnel issues in a closed meeting. Salzman stated, he would just as soon have everything in the open but was voted down in a motion to table for the executive meeting.
The floor opened up for discussion and Wright took a stand against paid departments or paid members. Having served on the board and as a volunteer with the Wayne Township VFD, he vehemently condemned opening up the department to becoming a paid one.
"In Wayne township it is a violation of their union to be a paid firefighter at one department and a volunteer at another. We're opening up the door to becoming a paid station," he claimed. Wright cited what has happened to Wayne Township which is now a totally paid station and has had serious financial issues and tax increases.
Assistant Chief Clyde Siddons asked the board "Why not be consistent with the other townships? No other Putnam County volunteer station has a paid chief." Salzman responded by saying that "If nobody wants to be paid that's fine too. We're just trying to compensate for the additional duties."
Wright brought up the subject of expecting the chief to have completed a Fire Officer 1 certificate and a Strategy and Facilities Course within 90 days as ridiculous.
"It's mind boggling that you would expect that," he added.
"I want people to know what is going on out here. There are a couple of people who want to be chief who don't get along with everyone else, and are stirring up stuff," added Wright. We have the second highest tax base in the county and it's a sweet setup. We don't want the department torn apart."
The next regularly scheduled meeting was moved to Monday, July 2 at 8 p.m. with an executive session at 7 p.m.