Two sides speak out in NACFD Board elections

KINGMAN - Heads and tails. Two sides are different and yet they make up the same coin.

This is the case with the two sides supporting different candidates for the five-member Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District Board. They both want a safe fire district serving the public, though each wants it to be under different leadership.

The NACFD Chief Wayne Eder and several district firefighters, including Ken McLaughlin, have endorsed Jimmie Bodenhamer, Edward Schrum and Fred Bunge for the three open spots.

While previous employee handbooks for the district have banned political activity, the policy was removed because the district lawyer determined the policy was a possible violation of the First Amendment, Eder said.

McLaughlin has been a part of getting the word out by word of mouth, e-mails and a political Web site, www.nacfd108election.com, not directly affiliated with the NACFD.

Support for the candidates has not only come from some of the fire district employees. In their door-to-door campaign and public gatherings, Bodenhamer has said they've received a positive response from the community.

"We've met well into excess 1,000 to 1,100 people," Bodenhamer said. "We've never yet had someone speak out against us."

The support has come from the positive results the district has had under the current board and Eder.

The district has gone from two fire stations to nine fire stations and a $1.3 million dollar budget to $5.8 million dollars.

The increased revenue has come from adding other fire districts through mergers and consolidations. The NACFD has been approached by each entity to do so, Eder said.

"We have a reputation for helping people," he said.

While the NACFD may be growing at a rate of the ancient Roman Empire, that isn't the district's focus, Schrum said.

"They say we are trying to build an empire," he said. "We are just trying to help people."

Bodenhamer agreed with Schrum.

"We are in the business of providing a service to the taxpayers," Bodenhamer said.

The NACFD has been able to lower the overall operating costs of the districts because they now have unified operations, Bodenhamer said.

While county-controlled property assessments have risen, the NACFD has dropped their tax rate from $2.95 per $100 in 2005 to $2.88 per $100 in 2007.

The increase in stations and budget led to 18 full-time firefighters at Eder's arrival to more than 75 firefighters now. The district has even started an emergency medical technician training program.

The fleet has also seen a revamp, with every vehicle of the fleet being replaced. Many of the old vehicles not only failed national fire standards but the Arizona Department of Transportation's standards as well, Eder said.

The decision to hire Eder has directly led to the acquisition of more than $4 million in grants for the district, Schrum said.

Eder has also made the firefighters dress and act more professionally, Schrum said. The professionalism has included increased training and accountability.

Bodenhamer, Schrum and Bunge have experience serving a fire district board, Schrum said. They have gained insight to what the position requires.

"It's not what the individuals want, but it's what the people want," Schrum said.

United Professional Firefighters of Kingman endorsed Mike Collins, Jim Bailey and Erik Berg for the board. The UPFK is Local No. 4191 of the International Association of Fire Fighters made up of members of the Kingman Fire Department, NACFD and Golden Valley Fire Department.

The UPFK has helped the candidates place signs for Collins, Bailey and Berg. They have even accompanied the candidates, walking door-to-door advertising the campaign.

"Our only goal is to provide better and more professional firefighting service for the district," said UPFK President Robert Borker.

The four-member board of the UPFK contacted Collins, Bailey and Berg to discuss their candidacy.

During interviews, they asked the candidates about themselves, their plans and the UPFK's concerns.

"They've vowed and promised to restore integrity, approach issues with an open mind, bring back professionalism and honesty," Borker said.

The UPFK didn't do the same with the board members seeking re-election.

"It's hard to maintain a dialogue with those individuals who don't want to sit down with you," Borker said.

While the decision isn't unanimous with the UPFK, the majority of the more than 75 members support Collins, Bailey and Berg.

"Not one has expressed concerns over the endorsements," Borker said.

The reason for this action by UPFK is they felt the current board and Eder have driven a wedge between the firefighters in the community, Borker said. The district hasn't been involved with joint training.

The reason for the lack of joint training is the difference in firefighting equipment used by the NACFD and the KFD, Eder said. He specifically pointed to the varying breathing apparatus used by each entity.

Borker said the neighboring fire agencies also don't participate in social activities during off hours.

"There is no face-to-face contact," Borker said. "Building that relationship does not exist right now."

With conflict between the Kingman Unified School District, the Kingman Airport Authority and the Office of the Fire Marshal, Borker said he feels the NACFD has damaged relationships with the community.

"What type of fire district takes a vote of no confidence with the State Fire Marshal's Office?" Borker said.

Conflicts with the different entities, the lawsuit and the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health-imposed fine are mainly the result of union-led actions, Eder said.

With the UPFK, Borker said he has tried to reach out to the board and NACFD Chief Wayne Eder to communicate. In response to the request, Eder sent a letter denying the request for dialog because the NACFD doesn't have a labor contract with the union.

"The current board members have never admitted fault," Borker said.

"How can so many agencies be wrong? It really doesn't pass the smell test we have."