NDF Responds: Fire departments complain about NDF slowness (Ely Times)

The Nevada Division of Forestry clarified today information that appeared in the March 5, 2008, Ely Times story, “Fire departments complain about NDF slowness.” NDF comments are in bold. See also, “White Pine County may establish its own new fire district (Ely Times): NDF responds.”

Fire departments complain about NDF slowness

By JOHN PLESTINA
Ely Times Reporter

Representatives from the Lackawanna and Lund fire departments chastised the Nevada Division of Forestry at a county commission meeting on Feb. 27 for failing to repair trucks and equipment in a timely manner.

Strong comments directed at the NDF came during a discussion about a draft of an agreement that would form a new fire district. Nevada statutes permit counties to form locally controlled fire districts that are not directly managed by the Nevada Division of Forestry.

Mary Walker & Associates of Minden is currently conducting an analysis for a new fire district. The county commission retained the firm in January. That study is about a month away from completion.

Issues that fire departments throughout White Pine County have with state management include what some fire chiefs are calling slow repairs to trucks and equipment by NDF mechanics.

NDF CORRECTION: Repairs are accomplished as they are discovered or relayed up the chain of command from the local fire department. There was a period of time when NDF personnel were not allowed access to fire stations. In addition, communication from local fire departments was limited. Any repairs that are currently being performed by NDF mechanics or staff are ones that have been discovered during regularly scheduled monthly inspections.

With a locally controlled fire district, funding that is currently going to the NDF would go to local departments and could fund repairs.

NDF CLARIFICATION: There is currently a vehicle repair line item in the budget for White County Fire Protection District. White Pine County funds are only used to repair vehicles or equipment in the White Pine County Fire Protection District.

Bill Ward is the chief of the Lackawanna Fire Department and the president of the White Pine County Fire Chief’s Association. He was one of four people who addressed the commission with statements critical of the NDF.

He told the Ely Times on Friday that some firefighters have threatened to quit if White Pine County doesn’t separate from the NDF for fire protection. “There’s quite a few of them that refuse to work with the NDF,” Ward said.

“None of the fire departments want to see the NDF back in the ballgame here. In about 20 years they haven’t done anything for us,” he said.

NDF STATEMENT: The following are some of NDF’s contributions to White Pine County. These were reported to the County Commissioners and Finance Director in December 2007.

  • A total of $112,629 has been paid to the volunteer fire departments of White Pine County for any and all emergencies to which they have responded. The reporting period is from 1999 to December of 2007.
  • A total of $129,325 has been funded to the White Pine County Fire Protection District in the form of grants administered by NDF for the same reporting period.
  • In 2007, the State of Nevada, through NDF, will assume fire suppression costs on private lands in the White Pine County Fire Protection District in the amount of $25,607 for the Lampson and Cathedral Fires.
  • A 4.25-year summary of Workers Compensation premium payments on behalf of White Pine County Fire Protection District and its volunteers is $39,965 through the reporting period of September 2007.
  • A report of documented services by the Ely Conservation Camp to White Pine County totals $154,793 dating from February 1999 through December 2007.
  • Funding for one-time “structural turnout protective equipment” in state fiscal year 2000-2001 was received and $20,081 was provided to White Pine County volunteers.
  • An additional $ 84,943 in equipment was paid to the county for salary savings and Emergency Medical Refresher payments for volunteers.

These examples total more than a half-million dollars. These figures also don’t include contributions from the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP). There are currently seven pieces of FEPP and 12 pieces of state-owned firefighting apparatus in the fire district. This equipment is placed in the Volunteer Fire Departments to support the estimated 20 pieces owned by the county and the Volunteer Fire Departments.

Ward cited needed repairs to antiquated and unsafe equipment local fire departments are using, some in need of repairs and some dating as far back as 1968.

NDF CLARIFICATION: Use of older equipment is consistent with fire protection districts throughout the Northern Region. Each county is advised of recommendations for upgraded, newer fire apparatus during the county budget process. In addition, NDF requests upgraded fire apparatus at the state level each budget cycle. The success of getting new equipment is dependent upon available budget dollars at both the local and state levels.

“That’s not fair to the citizens of White Pine County. A lot of the time it falls on deaf ears (with the NDF),” Ward said. “They don’t want to talk to us and basically most of us don’t want to talk to them.”

NDF CLARIFICATION: NDF was informed on September 13, 2007, that its personnel were not welcome in the fire stations. Since then, NDF has been trying to avoid escalation of the situation by abiding by the direction of the volunteers to the commissioners, whereby NDF has been instructed to stay out of the fire departments. NDF continues to conduct the administrative functions of the district as contracted.

He said it took a year for the NDF to change a battery in a Lackawanna Volunteer Fire Department vehicle and it had already been changed when a mechanic showed up.

CORRECTION: It is not clear from the article which vehicle and what time frame is being referenced. What is known is that on February 1, 2008, in an attempt to expedite the repairs to a water tender, the Chairman of the Commission and the Finance Director approved the use of the county road department mechanics to assist in replacing the batteries on the Lackawanna water tender. The report back from the county staff was that there was a battery disconnect switch left on that drained the batteries. The batteries were charged, and upon inspection on February 27 by Regional Forester Tom Turk and Fire Management Officer Sam Hicks, they were still serviceable.

“Whoever is the acting battalion chief hasn’t been in contact with any fire departments other than Baker,” he said.

CORRECTION: The position of Battalion Chief has been intentionally left unfilled pending the findings of the contracted study and the final decision of the commission regarding the future of the district. NDF staff make at least one visit per week to the county and currently administer the operations and budget of the Fire Protection District. This arrangement has been discussed with and accepted by the county.

The NDF’s firing of White Pine County Battalion Chief David Hendrix of Lund last August soured the relationship with the NDF for many firefighters. Hendrix is well respected and his termination has been a sore spot for local fire chiefs and firefighters.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Ward said.

While the NDF has never stated a reason for Hendrix termination, and is not required to, Ward said speculation among firefighters is that part of the reason was that Hendrix would not fight a fire in Elko County after being requested to by the NDF because his responsibility was for White Pine County.

NDF CORRECTION: A face-to-face meeting regarding the status of this position was held with White Pine County Commission Chair Brent Eldridge and two NDF representatives on August 3, 2007. By state law, NDF is required to keep personnel matters confidential.

“We think that had a lot to do with it. He was here to serve White Pine County, not Elko or the NDF,” Ward said.

NDF CLARIFICATION: It is common in emergency situations for positions such as this one to be directed to where resources are needed. For example, during the recent Wells earthquake, NDF personnel from other counties were dispatched to Wells. Personnel time is then reimbursed back to the county fire district in such circumstances. If an emergency occurred in White Pine County, NDF personnel from other areas would be called to assist.

Hendrix did not return a telephone call.

District Attorney Richard Sears told the commission that some language contained in the draft agreement to create a new fire district under local control was unclear.

Tom Turk of the NDF responded to several issues Sears raised.

The commission will consider the draft agreement at a future meeting.

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