Citing a monetary savings within the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District, the Board of Fire Commissioners on Tuesday, March 20, decided to remain at status quo by keeping the position of acting chief instead of appointing an interim or permanent fire chief at this time.
Assistant Fire Chief Darren White became acting chief on Monday, March 12, days after former Fire Chief Mike Becker resigned due to allegations against him.
Each of the four fire commissioners (Vice Chair John Scanlon was absent) gave individual opinions before the unanimous approval.
"I think this presents the fire district with a great opportunity to see how the district functions and to get an independent report from Acting Chief White as to what we really need," said Fire Board Chairman David Brower. "It's a big savings of money not to fill that position. We can save what clearly is at least $200,000 a year by the time we pay FRS, social security and other benefits. If it doesn't work out, we can start looking. This is good on-the-job testing."
"My concern is the difference between the performances and duties of our fire chief and that of our assistant fire chief. One basically deals with operations and the other acts more like a CEO with the interface to the public and other interfaces," said Commissioner Carol Morris. "We could take some of the operations to our three battalion chiefs, but we also have issues with Union."
Commissioner Ted Schindler believes there is a chance to boost a reported low morale among fire fighters in the district. He would like to discuss the overall issue including a possible hiring committee at a future workshop.
"This is an opportunity to advertise and find the right person who can bring us back into a happy workplace. We're getting things done, but there is a lot of in-fighting with the Union that should have never gotten to the level that it did," he said. "We have time not to rush into this. It is worthy of a lot of discussion and really important to have appropriate leadership."
It was stated Libbey Anderson will give a presentation on chief duties and a district analysis during the April 3rd workshop at Town Hall at 10 a.m.
"I think it is a good idea, but that's an awfully heavy load to put on one man to handle both operations and executive work," said Commissioner Betty Goodacre. "I think we really need to put out feelers and get people's names who are interested in the job, even if we hire them within a year."
Public comment will be sought before any hiring action is considered.
White presented a short Chief's report for February during his time on the microphone. He recognized four fire employees' years of service totaling 46 years to the district, heeded caution traveling on and off island during increased Beach traffic, stated both medical officers have been busy with activities and updated labor negotiations between administration and personnel.
"An impasse hearing was conducted on Feb. 8, presided by Special Magistrate John Popular. After hearing both parties' dispute, Mr. Popular requested additional information on several of the articles and extended to both parties to submit briefs by March 16," said White. "The recommendation by him should be expected by the end of March."
In other fire district news, the fire commissioners unanimously approved to waive district fees totaling $145 for two FMB Chamber events: the Easter Egg Hunt and Taste of the Beach. They also directed Fire Attorney Richard Pringle to negotiate fire ambulance billing services with selected provider, EMSMC. Once successful negotiations are complete, Chairman Brower will sign the contract.
Fire commissioners are also looking into other personnel benefits, including workout privileges at Hammerhead Beach Gym. It was reported the district offers $100 a year per fire employee, which costs taxpayers $4,500 per year.
"It's time to start afresh with everything that has gone on with the traumatic experience during the past two weeks," said Brower.