Tonganoxie firefighters, chief at odds
A group of Tonganoxie city firefighters last week sent a letter to Fire Chief Charlie Conrad suggesting he resign.
The letter was sent after three members of the volunteer department resigned.
Conrad, a 29-year veteran of the force who has been chief for 16 years, said Monday that he answers to the mayor of Tonganoxie and that "a mountain is being made out of a mole hill."
And now Mayor John Franiuk is hoping to resolve the conflict within the 88-year-old department.
"There are some issues that I need to work out," the mayor said. "I am going to work them out very quickly, and I'm just not ready to go public yet."
The mayor said he has met with both Conrad and firefighters, in hopes of bringing the two sides together.
"I think mediation is where you start," Franiuk said. "If that fails, the next choice is pretty obvious. The next choice is we have to make both parties happy."
But Franiuk conceded that probably is not possible.
"I am not for un-appointing someone midway through a term," he said of Conrad, whose most recent appointment as fire chief was made last May. "I'm also aware of their (firefighters') circumstances. It's a volunteer organization that's supposed to run with everyone on the same page."
Franiuk said he faces a difficult decision, adding that he had hoped to talk with city council members about the situation.
The next council meeting is Jan. 14.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I'll just have to see."
The fire chief said he believes everything's under control in the department.
"I think there have been some misunderstandings," he said. "There's still a fire department. It's still going. I don't know a whole lot. It's a good department to be on. I think over the years there have always been little disagreements and they get corrected, as there is with any organization. I'm satisfied with everything that's going on."
He emphasized that the mayor is his boss and he said he has no intention of resigning.
"I believe most of it's already ironed out," Conrad said.
Although no one would speak in specific terms or release a copy of the letter, Pat Albert, who is both a volunteer firefighter and a city council member, said he and other firefighters have concerns.
"I like Charlie as a person, and I want to maintain him as a friend," Albert said. "But there have been some things that have happened at the fire department in the last few months that concern me. The leadership group of the department is a young group that is going to be around for a long time, and I think we need to put aside our personal concerns and look at the long-term future of the department, and the long-term future of our department is the younger guys, not the older guys like me and Charlie."
Conrad said he would not comment on any questions about his leadership of the department.
Although Albert said he was reluctant to talk about any problems in the department and would not elaborate on details in the letter sent to Conrad, he did say he and nine other firefighters signed it.
Conrad would not discuss details of the letter, saying, "I didn't pay much attention to the letter. I deal with the mayor. That's who I deal with. I think everything's going pretty well. It isn't like there haven't been disagreements. You've got to have disagreements. It makes you strong. I don't know who the individual is who's trying to blow this out of proportion."
While Conrad said three firefighters resigned because they were too busy to be on the force, Albert said there were other reasons.
"There were resignations that were made because they were not happy with the way things were going," Albert said.
James Paine, assistant fire chief and the city's only full-time firefighter, said he could not comment on the situation.
And Emmett Wetta, a city council member, said he resigned several weeks ago as a firefighter.
"I just didn't have the time," he said.
The resignations bring the force down to 13 or 14 members. Kathy Bard, assistant to the city manager who met with firefighters and Franiuk, said the city will be well-protected by its firefighters.
"They've agreed to fight fires, and to put egos and personalities aside and take care of the public," she said. "I do not want the public to think there are life or safety risks," she said.
The mayor said he's not certain when a resolution will come.
"I'll figure this thing out," he said. "We'll get it straightened out. As in conflict resolution, one side's going to be happy, and the other side is not."