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Rural Fire Board discusses personnel, consultant

BIG ARM — At the monthly meeting on March 10, the Polson Rural Fire District Trustees voted to hire an individual consultant, Scott Waldron, the Fire Chief at Hebgen Lake and West Yellowstone, to advise the board on the most efficient use of the new station (the Fairgrounds Fire Station) subject to the board’s approval of the cost, when the cost is presented.

Audience member Dean Sams identified himself as an interested citizen. Sams said back before construction began on the FFS the Polson Volunteer Fire Department, the City of Polson and the Polson Rural Fire District had an opportunity to share the cost of a consultant and asked whether the consultant would be cheaper now.

Sams said hiring a consultant was unreasonable and uncalled for since the trustees have “paid staff and volunteer firefighters and yourselves. Figure out how to put the fire trucks where you want them.”

Firefighter Chris McGuinness said he was “happy (the board) are considering outside expertise.”  

At the end of the three and a half hour meeting the trustees dealt with personnel matters. The trustees had planned to go into executive session to talk with Chief John Fairchild, who is chief for both the Polson Rural Fire District and the Polson Volunteer Fire Department. Chief Fairchild waived his right to privacy so the matter was discussed during an open meeting. 

“I have nothing to hide here,” Chief Fairchild said.

The trustees expressed concern about insubordination, particularly in regard to assisting in the formation of fire companies, working with the Big Arm Fire Company, behavior of firefighters at Polson Rural Fire District board meetings, and statistics. 

After discussing the issues with Chief Fairchild, the trustees agreed to sit down with the chief in 30 or 60 days and review his performance on these issues. 

In earlier business, the trustees approved:

• Claims for February

• The U.S. Census Bureau’s request to use the Big Arm Fire Company building during the week of March 15-19 from approximately 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• Payment to Jack Clapp for housing fire trucks at Irvine Flats in a heated garage to be paid at the end of June.

• A banner for the Fairground Fire Station door. 

During the staff report, Fireman Chris McGuinness presented a 2009 year in review video of the Polson Volunteer Fire Department, including photos of firefighters, trainings and incidents during 2009.

Chief Fairchild handed out awards to Ron Friez, Jeff Meslin and Tom Sadecki for three years of service. Jeff Meslin also received an award for the most runs, 77, from the Big Arm Station.

Chief Fairchild also reported:

• The fire department had 18 runs in February. 

• Mask fit tests are being done now

• Firefighters Drew Hoel and Matt Sisler will be attending Fire Academy 1 in Stevensville

• Wildland basic training and driver training was held March 13-14.

Jeff Meslin reported the Big Arm Fire Company reviewed the Polson Rural Fire District’s generic by-laws and chose to adopt the by-laws, changing meeting nights and training nights. The trustees approved the motion. 

The Polson Rural Fire Company had not discussed the by-laws yet McGuinness said.

The Polson Rural Fire District election will be held on May 4 and will be a walk-in election held in conjunction with the school board elections. The polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Linderman gym or people may request absentee ballots from the Lake County Election Office. 

During old business, the trustees and Fairchild discussed repairing or replacing 323, the Batmobile.

The board passed a motion to repair the vehicle within reason if something should happen before the next meeting, Chief Fairchild will come up with criteria for a new or used vehicle and PRFD Secretary Bonnie Manicke will research interest rates. 

Trustee Manley attended the Stakeholders meeting mediated by Polson City Manager Todd Crossett.

Manley said, “ ... I thought that it (the meeting) was worthwhile. I think it isn’t going to accomplish much, and I told them that, unless they get the whole rural board there.”

Manley encouraged all trustees and members of the public to participate in the meetings.

During discussion about recruitment and equipment for the Fairground Fire Station, Chair Meslin said she, Trustee Laisy and Chief Fairchild met with Paul Iverson, contractor for the FFS, to go over items that need to be completed at the FFS. 

Trustee Manley said Iverson has asked for a list of things that need to be fixed and that Iverson be allowed to come in and fix it all at one time. 

When Chair Meslin asked Chief Fairchild if anything else was needed at the FFS, Fairchild said nothing right now unless “we can figure out some way to buy these guys some leather boots.” 

Leather boots are required for wildland firefighting. 

Chair Meslin replied if the Plum Creek grant is successful that might free up some money. 

Trustee Laisy reported on plans for the FFS open house on March 13. The station will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a brief ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. 

After much discussion the trustees passed a motion approving a junior firefighter program. Junior firefighters may not respond to incidents for six months and/or authorization by the chief, and they must complete the task book.  

Trustee concerns were about junior firefighters obeying all traffic laws when responding to the station, responding to incidents, dangerous situations and the amount of training the junior firefighters received as well as what tasks the junior would perform.

Chief Fairchild said it usually takes about six months to complete the task books. He also said fire department officers spend a lot of time with the juniors. Also, juniors must maintain a c average. When junior have enough training to go to an incident, Fairchild said they are assigned to an officer who oversees their activities. 

Darryl Mariucci, Chairman of the Board of Potomac Fire Department, talked about the Potomac Junior Firefighter Program. Mariucci said he thought over half of the cadets (juniors) went on to be firefighters or work in law enforcement. 

Mariucci said one real bonus of opening the cadet program to Potomac firefighters’ kids was that “once you have a father and son and the son is motivated, he’d drag his dad to everything.” 

In other new business, the trustees voted to modify the mutual aid agreement by deleting a paragraph that does not pertain according to Trustee Manley.

The board passed a motion to form a Fairgrounds Fire Company by a three to one vote. 

Trustee Clapp voted against the motion and moved a second Polson Rural Fire Company be formed. The motion died without a second.

The next meeting will be held on April 14.

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