City firefighter takes new job
Tonganoxie is losing its first full-time, paid firefighter.
James Payne, who has worked for the department since October 1999, has resigned to take a job with the Ford County Fire and EMS Department, based in Dodge City.
For Payne, new opportunities have much to do with his decision to leave the department, where he also worked as a volunteer from 1990 through 1998.
"I'm leaving because it's an opportunity for me to use my EMS skills along with firefighting," the 31-year-old Payne said. "I will be able to grow in that department."
Payne's final day on the Tonganoxie department will be Monday, and he'll start work in Dodge City next Wednesday.
His departure leaves a void that will be difficult to fill, said Fire Chief Charlie Conrad.
"I don't think we're ever going to be able to hire everything that Jaime had to offer," Conrad said. "He just had a lot to offer. We were getting more than we were paying for. We're going to look at the firefighter, not someone who can get in and do administrative-type things."
Conrad said, after advertising the opening and interviewing applicants, he's hopeful a new firefighter can start within 60 days. The department also plans to hire a second full-time firefighter, possibly as early as June. That new position was approved last year by city council members.
Council members decided Monday night that the city will advertise for a deputy chief/training officer to fill Payne's position, as well as for the second firefighter.
Conrad said Payne's absence would be felt by the department, which is comprised of volunteers.
"I will miss him, as a friend a good friend," Conrad said. "He definitely knows firefighting. He could do inspections, he was good with new people on teaching them, training them to a level they understood. He could bring them along. Hopefully, we can find somebody who has some experience. Bringing somebody on with no experience will be a setback, but we can do it. They have to get their experience somewhere."
Tonganoxie is somewhat hamstrung, he said, because of pay. Payne's current salary is $12.89 an hour.
"I think the thing with Tonganoxie is we're going to be a training center," Conrad said. "Once people get some experience under them, they're going to get hired on somewhere else. We're not Lawrence, Kansas, we're not the city of Leavenworth, and we're not Shawnee.
Payne said pay was a factor in his decision to leave Tonganoxie.
"If you want a professional service in this industry, you're going to have to pay for it at one point or another," he said.
In addition, recent difficulties inside the department also played a role in Payne's departure. Nearly two months ago, several firefighters sent a letter to Conrad asking for his resignation. Conrad refused, and a mediator met with the chief and firefighters to help iron out their differences.
"The recent problems are a factor," Payne said. "But there are family issues and other issues that make this move the best of me and my family. I hope the department does well."
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