Fire department reorganization to establish 'clear lines of authority'

Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Capital City Fire and Rescue is reorganizing to improve communications, to provide better service and to establish clear lines of authority. Chief Mike Doyle doubts the public will notice much difference.

"That's because they don't call 911 every day," he said.

City Manager Rod Swope said the lines of communication that are critical in an agency that provides emergency services have been missing.

"We need to have really clear lines of authority," Swope said.

The city will hold meetings with firefighters Tuesday and Thursday of next week to discuss the reorganization, Swope said.

Last week, Juneau began advertising for two division chiefs. In the organizational structure, both will answer to the chief and deputy chief. One will oversee career firefighters while the other will oversee the volunteer firefighter division.

Current volunteer chiefs at the four stations will have the same responsibilities and receive the same annual $1,200 stipend. But they will become known as captains instead of chiefs.

Doyle, who started his firefighting career as a volunteer in Colorado in the 1970s, said the volunteers will remain an important part of the department.

"I understand some of the volunteers have not taken this as a positive thing," he said.

Swope said the volunteers aren't being slighted. He noted that a volunteer division chief would be placed on an equal footing with the division chief supervising career firefighters.

"Volunteers are really getting an elevated status in the department," he said.

Recent resignations of two of the volunteer chiefs haven't helped the image of the plans, he said.

Doyle said John Walsh, the Douglas volunteer chief, indicated he would be taking a job outside of Juneau.

Max Mielke, the Glacier volunteer chief, told the Empire he wanted his resignation to speak for itself and didn't wish to comment further. But he added he is concerned the number of volunteers in the department is dropping.

Jeff Pilcher, a volunteer chief for six years, resigned in February 2001. He said his resignation wasn't about the department's organization.

"I thought 20 years of community service was enough," he said, recalling interrupted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

He said the reorganization is a good idea. Nowhere else in the world does a fire department have six chiefs, he said.

Pilcher noted that about a decade ago, there were five departments with five budgets before the Juneau Assembly created Capital City Fire and Rescue.

Doyle, who came to Juneau about six years ago, said the Lynn Canal station was merged with Auke Bay, leaving the city and borough with four stations.

"The key to being a successful department is being as consistent as possible," he said, added that volunteer fire departments have done things differently.

Now, all the officers are appointed according to a merit system, Doyle said. Traditionally, volunteer firefighters have voted for their officers. Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters also are getting the same training that professional firefighters receive.

He said the idea of the reorganization is to operate a cohesive department - something that can be difficult to do "through four independent-thinking chiefs."

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