Petersburg’s city council Monday approved a change to the chain of command and duties in the local fire department. The new ordinance gives one of the city’s two paid fire department employees responsibility over the chief of the volunteer squad. It’s been a controversial change that’s prompted some to end their volunteer service.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
The city has two paid employees in the department, the fire marshall and emergency medical services coordinator. One of those two is selected to serve as the head of the department. Under the new ordinance that department head supervises the volunteer chief, and along with the chief, jointly supervises the volunteer fire fighters, EMTs and rescue squad members.
Petersburg’s police chief Jim Agner lobbied for the change last month at a public safety advisory board meeting, voicing concern over unsubstantiated rumors about the conduct of some of the volunteers. But city councilor John Jensen Monday opposed the change. “I still haven’t had any of the allegations that led to this verified to me,” Jensen said. “I thought that the original procedure was working fine. I talked to as much time as I could spare to go talk to individual firemen about the situation. I still came away with the old system was working fine.”
The old system had the volunteer chief solely responsible for oversight of the volunteers. It gave the department head oversight of the two-person paid department and control of expenditures. City manager Steve Giesbrecht pushed for the new system and said the ordinance establishes a clear chain of command. “Occasionally you have conflicts when it comes down to, when you don’t spell things out,” Giesbrecht said. “Especially when it comes to money and budgets and what we have said, what the council’s approved and said you can spend versus what we actually spend. In my opinion this makes this a little clearer. Doesn’t take anything away from the fire department’s ability to operate and run their operation particularly tactically but it gives the city a little more say and control over the administrative side of it.”
The new chain of command was opposed by the current volunteer chief Jerod Cook, who told the council this month he plans to step down from the department at the end of the year. Long-time volunteer Doug Jenny announced his resignation from the department with a letter to the editor last week. He called the new chain of command a demotion for the volunteer chief.
Councilor John Jensen thought there could be more resignations. “There’s a lot of hard feelings, lot of hard feelings. Maybe they’re just regular line action guys they aren’t necessarily the officers, but you saw in last week’s paper we had one guy resign and there’s a couple other people that haven’t been coming to meetings and I think that might even increase with the passage of this and that’s some of the reasons I’m not gonna support it.” Jensen was the only council vote against the ordinance and it passed in both second and third reading by a 5-1 vote. Jensens brother and fellow councilor Mark was was not at the meeting.