Archive for Thursday, December 8, 2005

Good luck with the new fire chief

December 8, 2005

These observations are in regard to your Dec. 1 article about the fire chief position in Eudora. My commentary is not supposed to be divisive but a reflection on the situation as I understand it.

Correction: I work for the federal government as a civilian firefighter for Fort Carson, Colo. We have five fire stations and are responsible for approximately 300,000 acres of improved and unimproved land. Between our district and surrounding agencies, we provide life and safety protection for about 50,000 people. I live in Divide, Colo.

I was the nominee selected by the panel empowered to review and interview the top candidates. I was then recommended to the Eudora City Council by a 4-1 vote.

I visited your city twice, once with my wife and daughter and once for the interview. We were totally enchanted and fell in love with Eudora.

I became serious about the position and started gathering as much information about Eudora as possible. I researched the demographics, community, fire department, economics, future plans, city administration and became very familiar with the job requirements. We had no problems with the residency stipulation. It is reasonable to expect the fire chief to reside in the city limits, to pay taxes, be part of the community and, if there are children, be in the school system, and to have a vested interest in the city. This is a requirement in many cities and fire departments.

The selection board was able and professional. The process involved panel members who represented a diverse cross section of the community: Mayor Tom Pyle, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Underwood, City Administrator Cheryl Beatty, and Councilmen Dan Gregg and Bill Whitten. Each member asked several questions germane to the fire chief's position and to the functions of the fire department in general. It was a rather lengthy process.

The process was standard and quite in line with the way other community orientated fire departments of Eudora's size, mission and complexity are done. A selection is made. The successful candidate is recommended to the city council for approval. The original procedures were well documented and adhered to. The panel took time away from their families and did a sincere, legitimate and professional job.

Despite the acknowledged process, Councilman Whitten demanded a second round of interviews, overturning my nomination and re-starting the selection process with a new job description and a different selection process involving several area fire chiefs.

To have a selection board comprised of area fire chiefs from paid departments sounds good and does have merit, but in my experience I have noted there are differences between paid and community orientated fire departments such as Eudora's.

On a paid department the chief is the boss. A person works for the chief and must follow his or her directions. It is a job. On a volunteer department, the firefighters don't work for the chief, they work with him or her.

The decision process calls for more diplomacy and motivation skills. On an emergency incident the response of a paid department is predictable. You know what equipment is responding, how many personnel, when they will arrive and their experience levels. On the volunteer department your response will depend on the time of day, day of the week and even the time of year -- not to mention who shows up. You don't always know what you will get and when it will arrive. In this environment it is important to have an agile thought process. To be able to adapt and overcome different and constantly evolving situations. Sometimes the structured ingrained decision process of the paid officer, although efficient, doesn't lend itself well to the volunteer world.

The city administrator advised me about the new program and told me I could re-apply. I was not inclined to go through it again. I thought I did pretty well the first time.

I am reminded of one of the definitions of insanity: "You do the same thing over and over again and somehow expect a different outcome."

I told her to do a good job and be successful I would need the full, fair and unbiased support of the city council, time to do it, and know what the rules are.

As for the city council's support, it's obvious there is not a consensus, and I would need the full support of, if not five, at least four of the council members. As for time to do the job, I am unsure if I would be helped or hindered to the point where the job is untenable. I would never accept a position that I was not totally convinced I could do it professionally, successfully and be a positive reflection on the city and its people. As knowledge of the rules, I think the present situation speaks for itself.

The people of Eudora have a great fire department. Chief Underwood told me about some of the recent emergencies and how they were handled. The firefighters and officers did a really outstanding job. It would have been a privilege to work with such firefighters.

I strongly encourage the people to support their fire department whenever they can. And when you see one of your firefighters, tell them you appreciate what they do.

It was wonderful to meet the people of Eudora. You are blessed and live in a tremendous city.

Kevin P. Ganoe and family

Divide, Colo.

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