Tensions Grow Within Fire Commission


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

As the Key Peninsula’s Fire District 16 prepares to promote a “levy lid lift” to the voters for the fall  ballot (see related story), tensions have been growing inside the district involving commissioners. The conflict, which has culminated around the issue of the district’s drug testing and fitness for duty policies, is not only creating frequent heated moments during commissioners’ meetings, but also threatens to impact the district’s levy election.

During the meetings, it is not unusual to hear phrases like, “Chairman, I protest!” from a commissioner, or hear the chairman say, “OK, that’s enough!”  and even witness some shouting. Accusations of personal vendettas, misrepresenting the district, secret tape recordings of meetings and other wrongdoings come up frequently, both from commissioners and the general public.

“Sometimes I think I should wear the referee shirt,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Rick Stout, when asked about the tense conversations on various subjects and the personal mudslinging between Commissioners Jim Bosch and Allen Yanity.

Yanity, whose term started on Jan. 1, has taken issue with the district’s physical fitness policy, as well as lack of randomized drug testing. He claims the fire district is known to outsiders as “the Doughboy department,” and that in addition to the reported substance abuse problems related to the former fire chief, he knows of two others. However, the fire district administrators said they are yet to receive any names of the alleged violators.

Yanity, who told the KP News he supports the need for more funding, voted no on a resolution by the commissioners to place a levy lid lift on the ballot. He gave no indication about that move during the three work sessions preceding the vote. He had also announced he planned to spearhead a campaign against the levy, saying his constituents are demanding a better physical fitness and drug testing policy.

“I think it’s poor decision-making to hold citizens hostage like this,” Robert Bosch, president of the firefighters’ union, Local 3152 IAFF, said during the public comment period at a recent board meeting, referring to Yanity’s comments to reporters that he would not support a levy until the policies are changed. “I would appreciate if Mr. Yanity wouldn’t screw with the firefighters and this community. It should be addressed in a formal matter, not in the media.”

The current policy, which was implemented in 2005 after several years of fine-tuning, addresses drug and alcohol screenings, and physical as well as psychological examinations. “I would argue those policies work,” Fire Chief Tom Lique said. “If an issue is identified, the policy will do what is supposed to.”

In addition, a physical fitness program requirement is part of the district’s three-year labor contract. The agreement requires one hour of physical fitness activities during every 24-hour shift, and an additional hour twice a week for day shift personnel. Firefighters point out the district cannot single out anyone based on physical appearance, and that just because they “don’t look like models” does not mean they cannot perform their jobs.

Commissioner Bosch contends Yanity came on board “with his own agenda,” including looking for ways to fire Bosch’s two sons, who are longtime district firefighters. Bosch had helped Yanity campaign against Fred Ramsdell in 1999 (Ramsdell was elected), and they both acknowledge they had been good friends for a long time until now.

Bosch says Yanity’s decision against a levy election is “like standing at the polls and not letting people get into the door and saying, ‘I’ve already taken care of you.’” “Why don’t you want the people to take that vote?” he said.

Yanity said he’s heard “everybody” saying he has a vendetta, and denies that allegation. “What I’m out to do is get the best firefighting crew I can,” he said. “I don’t want to fire anybody, I want to fix them.” He said he voted against the levy resolution because “it’s the only weapon I had” to try to get the district to change its fitness for duty policy.

Their disagreements have often caused the two commissioners to cast opposing votes on various motions, and the district administration admits the meetings can be unproductive. But Lique points to the new rescue truck, recently purchased with voter-approved funding, as proof that the district is moving forward. He agrees that the rift among the commissioners could have a “huge impact” on the district’s ability to pass the levy, but encourages the public to think about their experiences with the rescue service and the growing needs when casting their votes. He says the citizens should be involved in what the district does, and should contact him with any questions.

“As a fire department, we have to remember it’s the citizens telling us what to do,” he said. “The citizens have to remember they put the commissioners here and they work for the community.”

Rumors have been circulating regarding a potential recall, but no one has come forward with an official campaign. Talks about a recall are not new for the fire district, nor are heated disagreements between commissioners--some old timers recall screaming and shouting matches at meetings years back.

“We’ve got some good guys (firefighters) who’ve been through some ups and downs,” said Ruth Bramhall, a former commissioner who continues to be involved with the district. “It’s hurtful to know we’ve made a lot of progress …and see it torn down like that.”

Yanity told the KP News in late June that he and Local President Robert Bosch had just attended a health and safety symposium in Phoenix and had a chance to work out their differences. In exchange for his support of the levy election, he said Bosch agreed to entertain his request of asking the Labor Management Committee to “work out the issue.” The committee, comprised of district and union representatives, does not replace collective bargaining, however, and a policy change would still have to be part of labor negotiations.

Robert Bosch confirmed the agreement, but said the union’s position has not changed. In an interview preceding this development, he characterized the issue as “getting extremely out of hand” and as “being destructive to the labor and management relationships that have been built over the past few years.”

He said regarding his agreement with Yanity, “That has nothing to do with negotiations, it’s simply saying we’ll talk about the subject in labor management… If he opposes the levy, we would withdraw support of discussions about drug testing.”

Yanity said the June 26 commissioners’ meeting would be the deciding factor on how things proceed. The meeting occurred after the KP News press deadline.