The Pryor Times

March 19, 2013

Sparks fly over fire departments

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

— Crying fire in a Mayes County Commissioners meeting is a sure way to fill seats and spark debate.

Since discussion began about the redistribution of fire tax funds, the inner workings of fire departments have been a hot topic. During last week’s commissioners’ meeting, Firefighter Association Chairman Jason Miller, presented a letter to the commissioners outlining his disapproval with their decision to pay each fire department per run instead of giving each department the same amount of tax funds per month.

The letter reflected agenda items from the association’s last meeting related to the tax re-distribution.

Monday, the commissioners were given five separate letters expressing disagreement with Miller's letter.

The letter from Adair Fire Chief Craig Cooper said:

“We were made aware of a letter that you received on March 11 from the Firefighters Association. I wanted to make sure that you were aware that the Adair Fire Department is not involved with the association in writing this letter. We do not share the same opinions as some of these fire departments that want to continue to fight with your board over the fire tax money. We appreciate the funding that we receive and will continue to provide the same level of service to our citizens that we always have,” said Cooper.

The letters from Chouteau and Locust Grove Fire Departments agreed.

Pryor Fire Department Chief Tim Thompson submitted two  letters. The first was to advise the commissioners that the Pryor department would not be attending the February Firefighters Association meeting because of their general disagreement with items on the agenda.

“This is notice that Pryor Fire Department is not supportive of items that have been placed on the Mayes Count Firefighters Association agenda meeting scheduled for February. I believe this is just driving the wedge in deeper for some,” said Thompson.

“I think they need to be more accountable for how they spend their money. I see a problem with that and I don't know you don't,” said Commissioner Alva Martin.

“It's a shame they don't police themselves, but this doesn't fix anything,” said Commissioner Ryan Ball.

Martin said it is the commissioners’ duty to police the fire departments, since the commissioners control departments’ money.

“You've created animosity,” said Ball.

“There was animosity before but no one talked about it, I assure you,” said Martin. “I think the little ones run around on medical calls and the big ones are putting out fires.”

Martin said he has seen documentation of numerous ATM cash withdrawals at some departments.  

“That is a question that someone needs to answer to. These Title 18 fire departments are a problem.

“The problem I have is there needs to be accountability,” said Martin.

The change had originally passed with Martin and Commissioner Darrel Yoder outnumbering Ball. The disagreement resulted in a heated exchange between Martin and Ball.

“I can't for the life of me figure out why you think it's OK for them to run around using taxpayer's money,” said Martin.

Ball said the original ballot had called for equal distribution.

“I'm all for putting it back on the ballot and putting the money towards our roads,” said Martin.

“People may not vote for that, you never know,” said Ball.

Two projects involving the Disney Fire Department awaited approval as well.

The first was a request to award the bid on a used tanker truck.

The bid was awarded to Rolling Hills in the amount of $29,300.

“Are you good with this?” Ball asked Disney Firefigher JoAnne Sanders.

“Yeah, we seen it,” said Sanders.

Martin asked if the truck upgrade will improve Disney’s insurance rating.

“We're trying to bring it down but our tanker is down and we need another one,” said Sanders.

The second proposal was for an addition to the existing Disney Fire Station.

“We went through all the bids. Three were just the building and the pad and the other two included everything they would need, like heat and air, electricity, and doors,” said Sanders. “The cheapest is $96,000.”

Yoder asked if Disney’s department meets the state standards.

Sanders said it does. Yoder asked if she was sure.

Yoder asked how much Disney spent on the pump test, and what work had to be done prior to that test.

Sanders explained that the batteries would not charge, and when the equipment was taken in for repair the pump test was done at the same time.

“It is my understanding that you paid $5,000 for the pump test,” said Martin.

“I'm not sure exactly what the amount was, but it wasn't no $5,000,” said Sanders. “It was all paid for in one lump sum.”

“I don't believe you're in compliance with the minimum standards until you give me documentation saying otherwise, for that reason I would make a motion to deny this proposal,” said Yoder.

Sanders said that Ball has all of the department’s paperwork saying it is in compliance.

“So we let them get a new truck, but not a place to put it,” said Ball.

Martin said the town has an empty stall available for use at the city hall.

Sanders said the town took the space over because it was no longer being used.

Martin said he believes the town of Disney should do more to help the fire department.

“I wouldn't have a problem helping you with the addition if you lowered your ISO rating,” said Martin. “So I second Darrell's motion.”

A petition from the audience came from Ron Coats.

“I'd like the commissioners to hold off on any decision until they (Disney Fire Department) allow me access to their records that I've asked for. So far they've denied me access,” said Coats.

Martin said the previous motion still stood, without regard to the request.

“Once I see you're going in the right direction I don't mind helping,” said Yoder.

With a motion by Yoder and a second by Martin, the motion to deny was passed.