Breaking: North Summit to suspend all firefighters, alleging insubordination; Park City Fire District to take over duties
The North Summit Fire District said it would suspend all of its firefighters indefinitely, saying they refused to work shifts and disobeyed direct orders. The Park City Fire District is to take over duties temporarily.
The administrative control board of the North Summit Fire District on Friday asked the Park City Fire District to take over services in North Summit after what the board says was a series of insubordinate acts culminating with firefighters refusing to respond to calls for service.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said he learned of the problem on Monday when the board notified the County Attorney’s Office that a North Summit firefighter refused to respond to a call to support medical personnel for a shooting incident in Echo Canyon that claimed the life of a 58-year-old woman.
Fisher said he immediately contacted the Park City Fire District when he learned about the refusal to respond on Monday. Park City then started responding to all calls that came from North Summit.
“They are already responding to calls and have been responding to calls all week in the North Summit Fire District,” Fisher said.
The North Summit Fire District covers the cities and towns in mostly rural northeastern Summit County, including Coalville and Henefer. Its territory reaches to the Wyoming border.
The Summit County Council acts as the district’s governing board, while the administrative control board oversees day-to-day operations. The Park City Fire District operates the ambulance service in North Summit.
The chair of the administrative control board, Michelle Andersen, said the district has a roster of about 25 people. She said the vast majority of shifts are covered by a core group of about eight firefighters.
Recently, Andersen said, some of those firefighters have refused to sign up for shifts and refused to follow direct orders.
“We've also had a firefighter on shift, on duty, refuse to respond on a call, even when our deputy chief has called him and asked him to respond on a critical call,” Andersen said. “It's brought that concern of, ‘What do we do now?’ The service to our community is our top priority. And our citizens deserve to have a service of emergency response to our area.”
On Friday evening, the administrative control board convened a special meeting with the mayors of Coalville and Henefer, the chair and co-chair of the County Council and high-level county staffers.
The consensus was that the board would sign an interlocal agreement with the Park City Fire District Administrative Control Board for Park City to take over firefighting duties in North Summit for a temporary period of time, perhaps 30 or 60 days.
Andersen said that might give the North Summit board time to start to rebuild the district.
The North Summit Fire District has been in a time of transition in recent months. It is in the process of recruiting its first full-time chief after firing the previous chief in November. Officials said at the time the firing was “for cause,” but did not give a public reason for the dismissal.
The district’s assistant chief, who had been serving as its interim chief, stepped back from that role earlier this week. Fisher said it is unclear who the district’s chief is now.
Recently, county officials have overseen the implementation of more formal district policies and some different certification requirements.
Amid that process, some North Summit firefighters have pushed back against the board's actions. Some have said the Park City Fire District is trying to take over North Summit.
At the meeting Friday, the board refuted the idea that it wanted Park City to take over, saying that it would prefer to control the district locally. The county council representatives spoke of the need to involve the public in the district’s next steps. The district discussed the idea of a public hearing involving the board and elected officials from Summit County, Henefer and Coalville.
Fisher said he did not know when Park City Fire District personnel would begin to be stationed in North Summit, rather than respond to calls from the Snyderville Basin. He said the North Summit budget could support such an effort for the 30- or 60-day period discussed.
Fisher is a former brigadier general in the Utah National Guard, and said he personally investigated many aspects of this situation.
“In my military career, I have seen examples of poor leadership, I've seen examples of insubordination. I've seen very big examples of units in the military that have had large-scale dereliction of duty and insubordination issues,” Fisher said. “This matches those worst cases that I’ve seen.”
The Summit County Council representatives suggested they would discuss the situation further at the council meeting Wednesday.