Now some Sedona Fire District volunteers are adding kindling to the great public relations fireballs lobbed by new Chief Larry Drake, who has developed a "One Hundred Day Report" for reform of existing fire district practices. Drake's
apparently well-organized and well-oiled report recommends restructuring the way volunteers are used, adding more full-time career employees, and eliminating the practice of full time employees "volunteering back" their time.
At stake is the future of how volunteers are utilized within a department that Drake
would like to see rely increasingly on full-time, paid employees, while Wright would like to see volunteers continue to be a motivational force as well as a reminder of the history of the past firefighting strategies employed in the region.
Several meetings in June involved an exchange of emotionally-charged and sometimes heated rhetoric among longtime volunteers, the Sedona Fire District Board of Directors and Drake
.The exchanges left some citizens wondering: Who will put out all the fires and how will it be accomplished?
Wright said he
believes the answer to those questions is Drake
actions match his
rhetoric.Instead of merely apologizing for not involving the volunteers more in the major decisions of the fire district, he
should make his
actions reflect a sense of the community's history of dependence on volunteers.
Wright also feels Drake
needs to demonstrate via his behavior, not just words, greater respect for the sacrifices that firefighters make when they go to put out a fire in Oak Creek Canyon or other hot spots around the area.
Volunteer firefighters, who often work for the love of helping others, in a missionary fashion, and usually have a longer tenure than full-time employees, feel that Drake
has "established an aura of nontrust by not communicating" with the volunteers, Wright said.
currently rents a house here and maintains a house in Prescott, where he
had retired until applying for this job when learning about the opportunity on a visit.
has been a man of action, trying to get the fire district back on its toes after years of suffering the fallout from a poor community image and frustrating billing and other administrative and financial screwups.These included problems with billing for paramedic and emergency medical technician services to local hospitals and health care centers and a controversy involving crimes committed by a firefighter who was later discharged. Drake
is concerned that a Labor Department
fine the district faced in 1990, costing the district $60,000 in back wages for employees who volunteered back their services, coupled with a fragmented command network, pose significant problems to meeting the public's service needs.As a result, the Board approved Drake's request that employees no longer be allowed to volunteer back their services, causing several full-time employees to quit for various personal reasons, including one who left a June board meeting in tears over the matter. Drake
has repeatedly said he
values volunteers in the district and does not want to eliminate them from the Sedona Fire District's
"No one wants to eliminate the volunteer program," he
said, noting that he
will continue to meet with members of a task force of volunteer and career firefighters to work through implementation of the new command structure.
Currently, Sedona's volunteer firefighters have full and free health care benefits without a minimum number of hours being served.Each side agrees that this is a unique situation, one that Wright attributes to the community's longtime respect and appreciation for volunteer fire service.Drake, who admits he was once reluctant to take on administrative duties after years of work as a hands-on firefighter, confides that he is less comfortable with the politics of administering over the Sedona bureaucracy.