Dismissal of firefighters creates new flames in dispute between Ivins and Santa Clara – St George News
In a file photo, Santa Clara-Ivins firefighters respond to a burning SUV and trailer in the driveway of a home in Ridgeview Circle, Ivins, Utah. May 5, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St George News
IVINS — City council members in Ivins said they were upset by the firing of volunteer firefighters from the Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Department. The move was the latest in the dispute between the Ivins and Santa Clara over their joint fire department.
Both sides have an opportunity to settle their differences in a public forum as the two cities’ first joint city council meeting is scheduled for August 3.
The chief of the fire department, which is overseen by Santa Clara officers with additional funding from Ivins, said the moves were due to firefighters either not working many shifts or not being properly trained.
The quarrel began in May as the Ivins Council expressed concern that in late 2021 the department began leaving the Center Street fire station unmanned and stationed all firefighters and emergency responders from the two Santa Clara cities at the Rachel Drive station.
On June 16th the Ivins Council authorized $500,000 to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fully occupy the Center Street station and an additional $50,000 on July 7th to improve the station’s warning system. However, with the exception of temp workers for the July 4th holiday and Pioneer Day, Center Street remains unmanned.
“Now they’re firing volunteers who could have helped us a lot on Center Street, so it’s ridiculous. We’re just pissed off,” said Mike Scott, Ivins council member, during the July 21 council meeting. “We paved the way for Occupy Center Street six weeks ago, except they reduced the number of volunteers. We stepped on the plate, but Santa Clara is in control of making it happen and they’re not doing anything.
At the end of Thursday’s council meeting, as council members made reports, Councilor Dennis Mehr announced that he had been told that six or seven volunteers from the department had been fired. Volunteers are not full-time employees of the department and receive either part-time pay or no pay and typically work a day job.
Mehr mentioned a fired volunteer who he said had worked for the department for 19 years, first in Ivins and staying after Ivins and Santa Clara merged their departments in 2018.
“She missed three days, two because of COVID. She received a call from the battalion commander last night resigning from her employment,” Mehr said. “It’s not OK. Even if you do, you don’t call anyone and cancel at 8:03 p.m. That is not OK.”
Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Chief Andrew Parker told St. George News that Mehr’s claim that “six or seven” volunteers were fired was wrong. He said the department fired three volunteers but added two more at the same time, for a net loss of one.
“We had three part-timers that we laid off,” Parker said. “Two hadn’t worked a shift for two to three months. The third we let go because that person wasn’t a firefighter or EMT.”
Parker said for insurance reasons — the department is required to provide life insurance for volunteer firefighters as well — volunteers are required to work at least two shifts a month. He added that in addition to the safety of these volunteers and the people they are trying to protect, the department also faces an insurance requirement for volunteers who are not trained.
Ivins Council member Jenny Johnson and Lance Anderson have both been past Ivins volunteer firefighters. At the July 7 council meeting, both expressed concern that the department is moving away from volunteers. Both sought and received assurance from Parker, who attended the meeting, that the department would continue to add volunteers to its mix.
At Thursday’s council meeting, Anderson said he understood the need to hire more full-time firefighters but said volunteers were still needed.
“We need some full-time staff, but when you get a few more people to help you, it makes a difference,” Anderson said.
Finally, Parker said his goal is to make the department better able to respond effectively to fires and emergencies with fully trained teams. While he said volunteers will be a part of it, his goal was to move the department from a mostly volunteer model to a mostly full-time model.
“Full-time is simply more reliable. It’s that simple,” said Parker. “You will come to your shift.”
More also criticized a new directive from Parker that says volunteer firefighters are not allowed to respond to fires and incidents directly from their homes or they will be fired.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Mehr said.
Parker confirmed the new policy and said the move has to do with making sure firefighters have the right equipment and vehicles when they respond. Volunteer firefighters in Ivins must now first go to the Center Street station to put them into gear and use fire engines to respond. Parker added that lost minutes are not as damaging as firefighters arriving without equipment and driving their vehicles down the street when fire engines with hoses and equipment have to board.
“It’s just for safety,” Parker said. “We want them to be in a fire engine, not race in a private vehicle.”
That’s also one reason Parker said any volunteer who stays or joins must receive extensive training and that a coordinated response is key to effective firefighting.
“When they show up, they have to be coordinated and not just go into the fire at random,” Parker said. “You need to work with the operations manager.”
Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said after an initial meeting with Santa Clara Mayor Rick Rosenberg and county officials to get Santa Clara’s budget and operational approval for the reactivation of Center Street, he had nothing further Heard from Santa Clara officials and the Santa Clara Council that the reactivation of Center Street is not yet on their agenda.
Rosenberg had previously said St George News fire department matters would await the joint meeting.
The two councils will meet on August 3 at 5 p.m. at Santa Clara City Hall
“This is going to be an extremely important meeting,” Hart said. “We need to talk openly about some things.”
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