Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Mediator reports progress after talks with chief, firefighters

January 30, 2002

During the next three months, Tonganoxie firefighters and the fire chief will work together to resolve their differences.

City council members agreed two weeks ago to see if a mediator from Lawrence could help firefighters and the chief settle a dispute between them.

Apparently, after several meetings the mediator met with some success.

"The Tonganoxie Fire Department has resolved the internal conflict that became a matter of public concern," said the mediator, Craig Cochran of Cochran and Associates of Lawrence. "These men really pulled together as a team and proved that their number one priority is serving their community. They unanimously committed themselves to a set of goals that will improve their internal communication and sharpen their firefighting skills. I was really impressed

by the way they turned their problems into opportunities for growth."

James Payne, deputy chief, said firefighters agreed to work with Fire Chief Charlie Conrad during the next three months, in an attempt to iron out differences.

"We'll work for 90 days to try to go in a direction that we want to go, and then we'll re-evaluate after 90 days," he said.

It's possible the mediator, who was not paid, could return.

"If we're going along and problems come back up again, we can call him back in," Payne said. "Right now, we're going to try to work it out the best we can."

Attempts to reach Conrad, who has been chief for 16 years, were unsuccessful.

In late December, because of concerns about the department, 10 firefighters sent a letter to Conrad in seeking his resignation. The letter was sent after several experienced firefighters resigned from the force.

Some of the concerns firefighters cited centered on the department budget, morale, training and the department's relationship with other area fire departments.

Conrad, whose appointment as chief expires in May, said at the time that he had no intention of resigning.

Mayor John Franiuk, who met with firefighters and the chief before the mediator was asked to step in, said he wants to keep closer tabs on the fire department.

"I'm glad to hear that mediation is working to resolve the conflict they're having," he said. "I'm glad they can set aside their personal differences and protect the city of Tonganoxie."

In the next few weeks, he said, he wants to talk with firefighters.

"I think that's some of the problem: I just haven't been making the time to go visit with those guys and spend some time with them and see what's going on," the mayor said. "We really rely on our department heads and report back to us."

He said he would ask City Administrator Shane Krull to ensure the fire chief is supplying departmental reports to city hall.

"They should be coming from the chief," Franiuk said. "We'll have to be a little tougher to see that happens."

Cochran said firefighters and the chief are moving forward by focusing on what they want instead of what they do not want.

"They are developing a clearer picture of the values they share and the kind of department they want to create," he said. "They realize that concentrating their energies on making this vision a reality will naturally resolve the important issues at the heart of their difficulties. Every team has potential for conflict. The good teams learn how to deal with it. This is a good team. The community's fire protection is in good hands."

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