OCEAN PARK — Pacific County Fire District No. 1 is in the midst of an investigation.
The investigation is considered active and ongoing, said Jamie Meling, the district’s secretary and finance officer. Because of state law, the Chinook Observer can’t obtain the investigation files until it concludes.
It’s unclear when the investigation will end or what it’s about.
In September 2018, allegations were made against the district’s chief officers, said Fire Chief Jacob Brundage. The complaints were brought forward during a disciplinary hearing against a district union member, Brundage said.
After the complaints were brought forward, the district’s board of commissioners contacted the district’s liability insurance company, Enduris. The company hired an attorney and investigator to look into the claims and conduct an investigation.
On Oct. 16, Commissioners Fred Hill, Tom Downer and Dennis Long sent a memo to district employees. In the memo, the commissioners say the investigation came forward to investigate “certain complaints and allegations that have been raised concerning Fire Chief Brundage.”
“The purpose of this investigation is to provide the Commission with an understanding of areas of concern or dissatisfaction which may need to be addressed through training, mediation, or other job-related actions,” states the memo.
At the end of October and the start of November, district employees met with the investigator, Ken Wilson of Wilson Investigative Services. Wilson held hour-long interviews with at least 40 current and former employees, according to emails obtained by the Observer. However, the number may be higher.
“My understanding was they talked to more than 60 people,” Brundage said.
During a special commissioners meeting on Jan. 3, the commissioners held a vote of confidence for Brundage, and Assistant Chiefs Mike Karvia and Brad Weatherby. The motion passed for all three.
The motion describes the chiefs each as “a fair and responsible party.”
No district employees have been put on administrative leave since the investigation started. There haven’t been other investigations of fire chiefs while Brundage has been chief, he said.
“Most of the paid and volunteer members here are busting their butt every day to make sure that the public gets served on any of their emergencies,” Brundage said. “That hasn’t changed one bit and it will continue to not change, despite the allegations.”
Brundage said he doesn’t know why the investigation is still ongoing.
Brundage was promoted to chief on Dec. 1, 2006 and was first hired by the district in June 1998.
In addition to the investigation, the district is facing more calls than ever, disciplinary issues and contract negotiations.
The district hired a labor consultant and labor attorney to help with negotiations. In September, the district will work with a mediator on contract negotiations, Brundage said.
“We’re trying to work through our issues. We’re dealing with our labor issues right now so things are stressful but all the calls are getting covered,” Brundage said.
The district’s call volume has increased by 30 percent over the last five years. Currently, district calls are 10 percent higher than where they were last year, Brundage said.
Other focuses the district is working on include managing day-to-day staffing, recruiting volunteers, starting a new session of fire academy, and researching the feasibility of vertical evacuation structures.
“When I first started here, it was common to go through the winter months and not run very many calls,” Brundage said. “But it’s pretty consistent year-round now with calls.”
The district is on track to hit between 2,500 and 2,600 calls this year, Brundage said.