The Ely Times

A Special Joint County Commission and Fire Commission meeting was held on April 16. During public comment, Burton Hilton spoke regarding several issues he voiced regarding the fire commission.

“I agree separating the Emergency Management Position will be a good thing for the community,” he said. “That will enable both positions to be successful. I think the wage increase is a good thing that will attract some qualified people.

“I also don’t think you’ve been advertising very hard. The challenges are numerous, the EMT class has seemed to disappeared. You seem to be going backwards when it comes to providing services, the skill level in the county seems to be going down and not up. You have no strategic plan on how to improve things. You should be much further along by now. How can it be after four years, and 24/7 staff you are where you are?

“The bottom line is that you haven’t done a good job and you’ve spent a lot of money. Whatever reason or biases you have, you can’t get out of your own way on this topic. Everyone on this board has talked about services with the city at some point, but I’ve never seen this board come up with a plan.”

Burton went on telling the commission to quit doing things the White Pine County way of saying why we can’t do it, and blaming others for your problems, and learning to say how can we do it?

“The time is now, I implore you to have the courage to finally work towards fixing emergency services in the community rather than continue to be the problem,” he said.

There was no doubt that the commission seemed to be divided on every agenda item with the exception of the first agenda item.

Each vote resulted in a 3-2 vote with Carol McKenzie, Gary Perea and Chairman Richard Howe voting for each item, and Vice Chairman Shane Bybee and Steve Stork voting opposed. Several agenda items slipped off subject and Wheable had to redirect the commission to stay on agenda.

The first agenda item was to accept the resignation of Tim Woolever. This was the only item that the commission voted unanimously on.

The item to approve an interim fire chief was discussed. Bill Ward had expressed interest. Ward was a former Fire Chief for Lackawanna and was still currently a volunteer with Lackawanna Volunteer Fire Department.

Stork questioned whether they could fill the position with a senior firefighter who was currently employed by the county.

Howe explained that he was in support of Ward, he had dealt with him before, discussed how active Ward has been with the county, a member of the fire chief’s association and very qualified and would make a great interim.

Perea made a motion to approve Ward as the interim.

“I think it’s really a slap in the face to our current employees to not even consider them and to go to the outside,” Stork said. “I don’t think this is an appropriate procedure and I don’t know why we do it, but it looks were going to do it, so let’s proceed.”

The motion was voted on and approved by 3-2.

The next agenda item was for approval to a alternate solution to separate the EMS emergency manager duties from the fire chief.

Stork said, “We go round and round on this, I’m going to bring this back up, we paid $50,000 for this (referencing the case study) and the three of you were on the commission that voted to spend the $50,000 for this and you refuse to acknowledge anything that’s in here.

“We do know that this was fed false and inaccurate information knowingly I’m sure nothing was ever done about it.  Why did we spend money on this if were not even going to consider it?”

Howe chimed in to clarify that he had voted no on the decision to have the case study completed.  Stork went on reminding Howe that he was on the commission at the time of the study.

Perea spoke up saying, “On this issue Steve,  we are very much opposed.”

Perea added, “That plan that was put together  with input from the City of Ely, the county, and some of the information you said had may have been exaggerated, I don’t believe that it is.

Stork chimed in  “Ms. McKenzie said that it was in a public meeting about a year ago, so she knew it was false.”

Perea went on to explain how the plan referenced in the case study would only works if both parties were willing to move forward and, at this point they were not.

Stork said, “I think both parties are, this board summarily dismissed a proposal by the city instead of trying to pursue or do something with it. “

More discussion went on about the study, Perea explaining that what was provided by the City of Ely skirted some of the things that are in the recommendations of the plan.

Bybee said, “It actually falls right in line with exactly one of the ideas that was set out in that plan, that contract was one of the points brought forward by that  plan, it didn’t skirt it, it was one of the options.”

Perea agreed that was one of the options. The item seemed to begin to get off subject, and District Attorney Michael Wheable re-directed them back to the agenda item.

Howe asked the commission if they should separate the position and go back to a single fire chief, and have a half time emergency management position?

Elizabeth Frances, finance director, went on to give a little bit of history of the positions.

“So we make sure that everyone is clear, we used to have a separate full time emergency management director it got cut down to half time, because the person failed to obtain and apply for the grants to support the other half of the position,” she said. “We’ve gotten those grants back.  It seems to me they combined it to fire chief and emergency management, and it became a whole lot of work.”

Item was approved and voted 3-2.

The next agenda item was to begin the recruitment process for the fire chief.

Bybee suggested now that a interim chief was appointed they look at going back to the table with the city and come up with a feasible solution.

Bybee was interrupted by Howe saying that they needed to stick to the agenda item.

Bybee said, “So I say we don’t do this…we let our interim chief handle it, and then we schedule for down the road to discussions with the city and see if we can’t come up with a fix.”

Stork agreed with Bybee. He said, “When are we going to come to realization folks? We suck at this process. We run a dysfunctional department at best, we don’t staff it appropriately where we can respond and have any meaningful response be it fire or EMS, all too often I’ve heard these horror stories of us rolling on these accidents out on the highway and showing up with not enough help.”

Howe said, “be careful with that.”

Stork said, “I’m speaking truth here.”

McKenzie said, “But not on my birdside of it your not.”

Howe redirected the commission back to the agenda item. Perea referenced back to Hilton’s public comment. “It was said in public comment and here that the district is dysfunctional, and I see it differently, I think the fire district has done a wonderful job for the county, Perea said.  “We need to take it to the next step, hire a qualified fire chief, and fully support the fire chief.”

A heated discussion began when McKenzie expressed that she didn’t feel that the district was lacking in support.

“I disagree on the support we need, granted we are slim on EMT’s, but we don’t have a problem getting people there, when their covered.”

Stork quickly chimed in, “You’re covered, what about the second person pinned in the second vehicle?”

McKenzie explained it’s the same situation, they work the whole incident.

Stork said, “We’re talking about Sacramento Pass.”

Perea spoke up, “You’ve mentioned it in the past and I don’t understand.”

Stork said, “There was an accident, we had two people pinned, White Pine County requested an EMT only, we got out there, we had one person trying to do extrication on two people pinned and that didn’t work.”

Perea said “That’s not correct.”

Stork said, “then what happened.”

Perea said, “Baker was called out, station one was called out, we had two helicopters show up, we had the equipment.”

Stork asked how many people were extricated?

Perea said, “Baker was there first, then county showed up. It was run really well, the equipment was there.”

Having to redirect the commissioners again, Howe said “I simply want to get back to the agenda.”