The Mayes County Firefighters Association took a positive approach to a dramatic subject.
Their agenda for the April meeting included a discussion on how to begin building a better relationship with the county commissioners.
“What do you feel is the purpose of this association? What authority does it have?” said Jason Miller, association president.
A firefighter from the Diamond Head Fire Department said it is imperative the association have a relationship with the commissioners. “Despite personality differences, it appears they want to work with us,” he said.
“We never felt we had power. We have never played a role, obviously we need a more active role. I read our bylaws and resolutions and I keep asking myself these questions,” said Miller.
Several firefighters from different departments said they believe the association was put together to build a relationship between the departments and form a bridge to the commissioners.
The resounding opinion was the firefighters want to see the association working at its full potential.
Chouteau Fire Chief Ted Key said he just returned from a workshop in Stillwater. While there he was given the idea of creating a system of accountability within the association, for purchases made by the departments.
“It's a different angle. It provides checks and balances and encourages more healthy and helpful conversations,” said Key. “It allows each department to benefit from other departments’ knowledge.”
The firefighters discussed having open conversations about department budget and spending during each association meeting. Reviewing purchase orders for each other's department will catch any discrepancies and potentially prevent unnecessary spending.
“If we don't police ourselves, they will,” said Dave Matlock, Salina Fire Chief.
“It's important to just be honest and tell the truth,” said Pryor Fire Chief Tim Thompson. “Don't give people a chance to prove you wrong.”
“I'd like to see us having this conversation every month, to constantly improve,” said Miller. “We can also take the opportunity to take ideas from other counties and build on them.”
The association members present said it is crucial for each department to discuss short-term and long-term goals as well as prioritizing needs over wants. After those distinctions are made, they will work as a group and help with plans, decision making and prioritizing.
“We have to understand that building a better relationship takes time and effort,” said Miller. “These changes go along with what the commissioners want from our association.”
“We need to do our part. We need to work forward and talk about solutions next meeting. We need to get actual deadlines on these changes,” said Corey Packard, Chimney Rock fire chief.
Diamond Head Fire Chief Frank Kotoff talked about pending lawsuits.
“Diamond Head has hired attorney Dave Moore of Pryor to represent the department in a lawsuit against the commissioners. We feel they don't have the authority to do this. He has had two meetings so far. They requested this association work with the commissioners,” said Kotoff. “The commissioners wanted to know if Diamond Head is in favor of working something out. Commissioner Yoder is OK with raising the amount but not returning it to how it was before. He asked that I bring this to the association seeking cooperation.”
“Both parties have to be willing to lose a little,” said Miller.
The commissioners voted to stop paying each fire department the same amount from monthly tax revenues. Instead, the commissioners approved paying each fire department by the run plus a $3,000 base. Some of the smaller departments are opposed to this structure. Diamond Head brought the lawsuit to return to each department getting the same share of tax revenues.
Each firefighter present went away from the discussion with a list of objectives.
— Redefine the purpose of the association and change the by-laws accordingly.
— Create a board for the purpose of monitoring budget and spending.
— Have board chairman present a monthly report at the commissioners meeting for the purpose of updating the commissioners on progress and changes.
“Most importantly,” said Miller, “let's remember that we are all firefighters. We're on the same team.”
The association also discussed the terms of agreement between Mayes Emergency Services Trust Authority and fire departments regarding extrication and mutual aid.
MESTA director Rick Langkamp was present to explain the agreement.
The agreement outlines the definition of extrication and how dispatchers will handle calling for mutual aid.
Whichever fire department has jurisdiction on a given wreck will be notified first. Then any department with the necessary equipment and manpower will automatically be notified.
“It is better to have too much help than not enough,” said Packard. “Nobody will be offended by too much help.”
Langkamp said the association can help the dispatchers by notifying them if any sort of specialty equipment is needed.
“We barely know who has what, so we can't expect a dispatcher to know. We need to create some sort of resource manual that outlines which department has what equipment and what training,” said Langkamp.
Mike Dunham of Mayes County Emergency Management offered to take responsibility for creating a resource manual as it would be useful for Emergency Management to have as well.
“This agreement overall will create a simple set of guidelines to streamline the process,” said Miller.
A motion was made by Diamond Head and seconded by Chouteau to approve the agreement. With all votes yes, the agreement was approved pending attorney review.