Act now before more firefighters are burned
By Edward Eads and Robert Borker
Hualapai Valley Chapter Vice President; United Professional Firefighters of Kingman President
Firefighters have one primary objective, to protect the citizens of the communities we serve. Whether it's someone's home or business being ravaged by fire or a loved one's life at risk due to a medical emergency, our goal is to get there quickly, perform efficiently and deliver the best possible customer service. We can only accomplish these goals with thorough training, strong teamwork and a supportive administrative staff.
Unfortunately, we no longer have any of the above at the Hualapai Valley Fire District. Chief Wayne Eder has seen to that. Eder's actions have turned the HVFD upside-down with turnover and turmoil and made the lives of your firefighters not only extremely difficult, but now, very dangerous.
Before Eder arrived, the HVFD and Kingman Fire Department had a close working relationship. We had a centralized dispatching center allowing for the quick and accurate dispatch of an emergency to either a HVFD or a KFD unit. Regardless of the location, the closest unit would respond. (This system clearly gives our customers the quickest response times and most effective service.) We performed joint training sessions, we used the same radio frequency, we all knew each other and understood how we both handled emergencies. We always worked together toward the goal of solving the customer's emergency.
Thanks to Eder, we no longer enjoy joint dispatching with KFD, increasing both the response times and expenses incurred by citizens of HVFD who now must have their own dispatch center located in Lake Havasu City. We no longer engage in joint training with Kingman, despite KFD's repeated requests for such training. We don't know what Kingman is doing and they no longer know or understand what we do at HVFD. The residents of the HVFD district are paying the price with longer response times, confusing dispatch scenarios and inadequate joint training.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Since Eder assumed his role as the fire chief in 2003, more than 35 professional HVFD firefighters have either resigned or been terminated. This is in a department with just 28 firefighters! Some have grown tired of the intimidation and harassment and taken their years of valuable experience to other departments. With so many new firefighters, joint training exercises with its closest neighbor are especially important, but Eder has eliminated them. Any questioning of this bizarre policy results in termination or harassment and even more turnover.
Eder has publicly claimed this level of turnover is "normal" in smaller, rural departments. Let's check the facts: Since Eder's arrival in 2003, HVFD has terminated 10 firefighters and 25 firefighters have resigned. Not only is that not "normal," it is wildly outside the norms. Within our local area, (Kingman Fire, Golden Valley Fire, Lake Havasu Fire), there have been zero terminations since 2003. HVFD's turnover rate is more than 100 percent. This results in the considerable expense of training new firefighters. Unfortunately, there is no way to buy years of experience such as was lost in the rampant turnover of recent years. Additionally, because of a lack of experienced and qualified personnel, we can no longer place paramedics at each station.
Service delivery has also diminished in other ways. Prior to Eder's arrival, the HVFD had a minimum of three firefighters per engine. Since taking over, that number has dropped to two and sometimes even one firefighter per engine.
Eder's leadership has also put members of the Kingman Fire Department at risk. On Jan. 24, the Kingman Auto Recycling Yard caught fire. Under the best of circumstances, recycling yard fires are especially dangerous. Several Kingman Fire Department units were on scene fighting the fire. A Hualapai Valley Fire engine saw the smoke and responded into the area. (In the past, HVFD would have known Kingman had a large fire because we shared the same centralized dispatching center, which was eliminated by Eder). The HVFD engine arrived on scene and was quickly put to work supplying water to a Kingman ladder truck. When Eder found out his engine was at a fire that Kingman was working, he drove to the scene and ordered his engine and personnel off the fire. The water supply was abruptly shut off to the ladder truck while firefighters were up over the fire attempting to put it out. Let us repeat this - Chief Eder ordered his men to abandon a large, working fire and turn off the water supply to Kingman firefighters on a ladder directly over the flames. Eder never checked in with any Kingman Fire Department personnel to discuss his actions prior to ordering his personnel to leave. Eder then drove off without saying anything to anyone. A check of his dispatch log and radio transcripts found no other emergencies were pending in his district almost the entire time Kingman fought the fire.
So why don't we just talk to Eder about our concerns and work out our disagreements like adults? We've tried and tried. Eder considers any questioning of his decisions at any time for any reason to be insubordinate or harassment.
After we recently requested a meeting to try and resolve some of these issues we received a letter from Eder in which he states, "for a variety of compelling reasons, the District has no desire to consider recognition of Local 4191 ... the District declines your invitation to have a dialog with any representative or your organization." So we now have our own chief telling us he won't discuss anything with us at any time. It seems completely preposterous, I know. Imagine if your boss suddenly told you he would no longer discuss anything with you. What's far worse is we're talking about policies and procedures on which our residents' and firefighters' lives depend. But, there will be no discussions.
Of course, we have also approached the HVFD Board with our concerns. They've done nothing. We fully admit they're in a tough spot; it takes courage to publicly admit you've made a mistake and then correct it. They hired Eder when he was the only applicant to show up for an interview. They did not perform a background check, so they did not discover he had been fired from a previous administrative job and forced to resign from Twenty Nine Palms (Calif.) Fire Department. Even when a criminal investigation into Eder's actions involving his allegedly fraudulent dealings with the Kingman School District was announced, the Board continued to support their hand-picked chief. It's quite clear their top priority has become something other than protecting the people of Hualapai Valley.
The firefighters of your community can no longer afford to have a fire chief like Wayne Eder in this position. Your HVFD is now understaffed, we are not allowed to cross-train with KFD, we are not able to place paramedics at each station, and Eder eliminated the joint dispatching agreement with its closest neighbor. Our relationships with the Kingman School District, Kingman Fire Department, State Fire Marshals Office and local businesses have been badly damaged as a direct result of Eder's actions. We've lost decades of quality experience as firefighters are harassed into resignation or terminated arbitrarily.
We're using this opportunity to ask every reader to join us in putting pressure on the fire district board to intervene and relieve Eder of his duties and find a qualified chief willing to work with firefighters and surrounding communities. Otherwise, we have no alternative left but to try and change the board membership through the political process. It is the last thing we want to do but could be the only option we have left. Perhaps new members will be willing to at least listen to us and try to address some of the very real safety issues that now exist.
You and your property are now at risk. Through no fault of their own, your firefighters are inadequately staffed, terminated without cause, placed in unsafe environments and no longer are allowed to communicate with the administration that makes the policy decisions on which our lives, and yours, depend. It's time to end this nonsense before someone gets killed.
Help us take back your fire department and provide the best customer service possible. You can e-mail us with any of your questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact information for the HVFD Board: Eugene Newman -757-5719; Ed Schrum - 757-9407; Jim Bodenhamer - 692-6636; James McCarthy -757-8216.