Ninilchik Fire Chief David Bear moves the fire truck out of the new Ninilchik Emergency Services building on Aug. 9, 2014, to make room for visitors to the open house of the new NES building. (Homer News file photo)

Ninilchik Fire Chief David Bear moves the fire truck out of the new Ninilchik Emergency Services building on Aug. 9, 2014, to make room for visitors to the open house of the new NES building. (Homer News file photo)

Ninilchik fire chief let go during restructure

The board of directors for Ninilchik Emergency Services has terminated the volunteer fire department’s chief while it restructures the program.

Volunteer members of the department said they got an email Tuesday that former Chief Dave Bear had been fired. Volunteer Grace Huhndorf, who other volunteers identified as an assistant chief, was also dismissed. She said she was given no reason.

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.”

Members of the board confirmed in a press release sent by President Darrell Williams on Wednesday that service to the Ninilchik area will continue with a “minimal crew” that will continue to be assisted by Bear during the transition.

Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jon Marsh has confirmed that his department will continue to provide mutual aid and automatic 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 automatic 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.

Bear and Huhndorf 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 Huhndorf said she believes is wrongdoing by the service area’s board of directors.

The board is restructuring Ninilchik Emergency Services because it was recently approved for a “Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response” grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the press release. 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.”

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.

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.” According to the release from Ahlberg, the service area’s northernmost point is at mile 144 of the Sterling Highway, while the southernmost point is at mile 165.

Ninilchik Emergency Services 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. NES is supported through fundraising and donations.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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