2 p.m. update:
The chief of Ninilchik Emergency Services was terminated while the volunteer fire department’s board of directors restructures the personnel, according to a press release from the board.
Chief Dave Bear was let go by the board of directors on Tuesday, and at the time was given no reason, according to other department volunteers. According to the press release sent by Board President Darrel Williams on Wednesday, Ninilchik Emergency Services was recently approved for a “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” grant through FEMA. Under that grant, the department now has the opportunity to “hire another position for a Recruitment and Retention Coordinator.”
Ninilchik Emergency Services will now also restructure as an equal opportunity employer, according to the release.
“The NES Board is therefore temporarily restructuring to be in compliance with the grant and the Fair Labor Standards Act,” the release states. “This restructuring offers the opportunity for volunteers to reapply as employees. In addition, the restructuring process will provide applicants with a framework of responsibilities and requirements to include a firm focus on training and ethics to better serve the Ninilchik community.”
Bear’s position is currently the only paid position at the department, which is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit. According to the press release, the board’s “net earnings do not benefit any private stockholder nor individual, and as such accepts input from community donors and supporters at its annual meeting.”
Bear will continue to assist the fire department in responding to calls during the transition, according to the press release. The board confirmed that services to the Ninilchik service area will remain in place with a “minimal crew.”
A town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ninilchik Community Center for area residents to gather and discuss the future of the volunteer fire department. Members of the department’s board of directors have been invited to the meeting.
The town hall is open to the public. Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration, as well as members of the assembly, will be present at the meeting, according to a press release from borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg.
9 a.m. update:
Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jon Marsh has confirmed that his department will continue to provide mutual aid and auto aid to Ninilchik Emergency Services, per the existing agreements between the two departments.
When initial news of a potential NES shutdown spread, Marsh said the concern was that, if the department was no longer operating, the mutual aid agreements between the departments might no longer be valid. He said he got confirmation from the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration Wednesday morning that Anchor Point Fire and EMS will continue to provide mutual and auto aid as needed according to their existing agreements.
Medical and fire calls within the Anchor Point service area, however, will be the priority for his department, Marsh said.
The chief and a second leadership position for Ninilchik Emergency Services have been fired, and the extent that volunteer firefighters and medics will be able to cover their sizable service area remains up in the air.
Chief Dave Bear and Grace Huhndorf, a volunteer in a leadership position were let go by the volunteer fire department’s board of directors, Huhndorf confirmed. Bear’s was a paid staff position, while Huhndorf was a volunteer. The board did not give a reason for dismissing them, she said.
Volunteer firefighters and medics got an email from Bear at 1:31 p.m. Tuesday in which he told them he had been fired, said Montana Landess, a lieutenant with the volunteer department. Landess originally gave an anonymous tip to the Homer News on Tuesday, but went on the record Wednesday, saying he plans to quit the department.
The email from Bear stated the board was shutting down the volunteer department and their station for the next two to three days, including apparatus like fire tucks and ambulances. After he and Huhndorf were fired, Bear was able to negotiate for the continued use of the response vehicles, Huhndorf and Landess said.
Medics and firefighters will continue responding to calls within their service area, using department apparatus, said Captain Troy Laky.
“The service area will still be covered with all apparatus that is necessary for the call,” he said. “We will not allow the community to not have medical attention.”
Bear and Huhndorf, however, were the department’s only two members who were trained to the level of EMT3. Landess is an EMT2. The loss of highly trained emergency medical technicians means the department could potentially not have volunteer members qualified to respond to certain incidents requiring advanced life support, Huhndorf said.
Huhndorf said she believes her termination was a retaliation for a flyer she posted around town on Saturday. The flyer outlines what Hundorf said she believes is wrongdoing by the service area’s board of directors. Ninilchik Emergency Services is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It fundraises and members of the community are able to contribute toward the organization. Huhndorf and Landess claimed the board of directors is no longer recognizing the “membership” of those who give funding to the department.
The board has been appointing its members rather than holding elections, Huhndorf and Landess said.
According to the Ninilchik Chamber of Commerce, Ninilchik Emergency Services covers “approximately 30 miles of paved roads, 125 miles of unimproved roads, 65 miles of off road trails and 23 miles of Cook Inlet beach.” It is not an official Kenai Peninsula Borough services area like other volunteer fire departments, including Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Services and Kachemak Emergency Services. Those departments raise money through property taxes assigned to them from people living within their service areas.
This is a developing story. More information will be published as it becomes available.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.