Council replaces longtime fire chief
The city has a new fire chief for the first time in 16 years.
On Monday, Tonganoxie City Council members, on a 3-0 vote, approved Mayor John Franiuk's appointment of Butch Rogers as chief. Rogers also is the city public works director.
He replaces Charlie Conrad, who was four months short of celebrating his 30th anniversary with the department.
"It's politics, just politics," said Conrad, 47, who had served as chief for the past 16 years.
In recent months, a rift had developed between him and some members of the fire department.
The problems came to a head in December, when several firefighters wrote a letter to Conrad asking him to resign.
Conrad refused, and he and firefighters met several times with a mediator, in hopes of solving the problems between them. They agreed to work together in an effort to solve their problems.
Apparently, no resolution was reached.
"I want to try something different," the mayor said after Monday's council meeting. "I have a different plan. I think Conrad has done a great job for the citizens of Tonganoxie for 16 years, and it's time for a change."
Attempts to reach Rogers on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The mayor said he's hopeful he eventually can appoint a chief from within the ranks of the department's volunteers.
"I have a couple of good people in mind to take the job," Franiuk said.
That would be best, Conrad said. He thinks the chief should live in Tonganoxie. Rogers lives in Jefferson County.
In addition, he said he regrets having firefighters who also are city council members.
"I think council members need to get off the fire department," he said. "I think it creates a big conflict. Politics needs to stay out of the fire department."
Two council members Pat Albert and Emmett Wetta are volunteer firefighters. Wetta was absent from Monday's meeting, but Albert voted to replace Conrad.
Franiuk said concerns that firefighters raised in December played a role in his decision.
"It did make me sit back and take stock in what we have down there," he said. "It's time to try something different."
Regardless of his charges about politics, Conrad said he believes the department will provide good fire protection to Tonganoxie residents.
"I think there's a good nucleus of a very good department down there," he said. '' It's a different fire department today than it was from the one I grew up around. I want the department to continue to thrive, I want it to go on."
And he said perhaps he's the victim of a generation gap.
"It's different from what it used to be, from people understanding what loyalty and commitment are," he said. "If I'm in town and there's a call, I go. Up until the last four months, I'd never missed one. In the last four months, I've missed a few."
He's stayed in Tonganoxie on holidays.
"That's commitment," he said.
Conrad, who is assistant director of Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Service, earned $600 a month for his fire chief duties, which took about 40 hours a month.
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