Residents speak out in support of fire marshal position

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, September 22, 2012

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Nine residents spoke during the public forum of Tuesday’s council meeting in Runaway Bay, expressing their discontent over the elimination of the fire marshal position.

“In our budget, they had eliminated the fire marshal’s job, had just taken it completely out” Bettye Parker, who spoke at the meeting, told the Messenger Thursday. “They’re trying to cut the budget. I appreciate that. But he only gets paid $6,000 a year, which is very little. For $6,000, you can cut the budget some other place. This position is very important.”

Parker said the savings in the budget is ultimately a loss for residents. Her insurance policy went up significantly even though she had not filed any claims. When she called the insurance company, Parker was told it was due to “a loss in protection.”

She went to City Hall to do “some checking” and learned the latest cut was the fire marshal position, held by Brian Bernardo.

“We need to keep our fire marshal, who is also our fire chief,” Parker said. “Right now he is the backup for our police department and fire department. When either get called out for major things, Brian Bernardo shows up to help. I don’t think they realize what all he gets called to – fires, medical calls, fallen limbs, a dead animal in the ditch. He is there.

“You need somebody in charge when you’re relying on volunteer firemen who have jobs and families,” she continued. “That’s been Brian Bernardo. The station is very impressive. It’s neat. Every truck is backed in, fueled and ready to go. It didn’t used to be that way.”

Parker added that the compensation was not unreasonable. In fact, she felt he was underpaid.

“If they were paying him some unreasonable amount, I would understand,” Parker said. “But it’s only $6,000. If you consider the hours he put in last year, that translated to about $9 an hour. He could be running his business and making more money, but instead he does what he can to help the community. He does it out of the kindness of his heart, but you cannot expect him to answer all those calls, and they’re not compensating him at all. Nine dollars an hour is not enough, but it’s far better than nothing.”

The council approved the budget with the “option of looking at it at a future date, reviewing other ways to pay (the fire marshal) such as a first responder,” said Oneta Berghoefer, city secretary and acting city administrator.

“I think we made a difference,” Parker said. “All of us showing up at the meeting and expressing our stance made a difference.”

Former police chief Drew Paschall – who also served as director of public safety and oversaw the fire department – resigned in February, a week after Officer Mike Jones – who was EMT-certified – left the department.

“I felt we needed to keep that (fire marshal’s) job and not diminish anymore of the protection in the city,” Parker said. “That was my whole thing.”

In other news, the council:

  • approved a 61.53 tax rate, up from last year’s 57.16. “This is the effective tax rate that will generate the same amount of money as last year,” Berghoefer said. “We lost some values, about $6 million.”
  • approved a 3.11 rate increase for trash pickup by Progressive Waste Solutions, effective Nov. 1. The increase translates to 41 cents per household per month.
  • heard preliminary information on a city recycling program. The council asked Progressive representatives to submit an official proposal for a future meeting.

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