The Oct. 17 meet and greet of the two PCFD No. 1 commissioner candidates was quite an eye opener. I had attended the meet and greet with no preconceived ideas about either candidate. However, I found Dennis Long to be the best candidate for the job, and I’ll tell you why.
Dennis was appointed to the position vacated in December 2017 by the death of Gregory McLeod. Greg was a dedicated member of PCFD No. 1 since 1979, including 20 years as an elected fire commissioner. During his tenure, the department evolved from an all-volunteer fire department to the combination fully staffed department that is it today.
Mr. Long came into his position wanting to learn as much as he can about the machinations of a successful fire and EMS department. This includes being fiscally responsible, managing assets and obligations wisely, planning ahead for equipment needs and staffing requirements in a population that is continuing to “mature.” He has done this with the resources available and during times of diminishing payments from Medicare and Medicaid. His experience in banking, finance and management provides much strength to managing the department.
To his credit, Dennis readily admits that he has spent the past nearly two years observing the workings of the district, including staffing, management, and planning. He has nothing but praise for the work that our firefighters/paramedics and EMTS perform, and shows genuine sympathy for the stress placed on them by some very sad and distressful calls. Mr. Long has gone on two 24-hour “ride-alongs” with the duty crew, to better learn what they do, and the challenges they face. With the other two commissioners, he began a strategic planning process last summer with input from staff, management, volunteers, the community, and the union. The plan is currently being refined and will be ready to implement in January 2020.
Additionally, Mr. Steven Kovach has made some totally erroneous comments in his interview to the Chinook Observer, including statements about the current union contract and labor/management issues. It was made painfully evident that Mr. Kovach has been bought and paid for by the firefighters' union. When Chief Brundage pointed out to Mr. Kovach that the union did, in fact, have a working contract, he was obviously dumbfounded. In fact, Mr. Kovach did not have a copy of the union contract, nor had he reviewed it. Chief Brundage asked him if he would like a copy, and handed him one. The union contract is a public document, but Mr. Kovach had not done his homework or due diligence to “fact check” the stories the union had told him.
Furthermore, Chief Brundage asked Mr. Kovach directly why he had not come to management to discuss the union contract, answer questions, or determine all the issues impacting the department to form a better understanding. Mr. Kovach replied that he was going to wait until he was elected. Mr. Kovach further stated that the other two commissioners “haven’t contacted me, and I feel they are unwelcoming.” Is it just me, or if you are looking to become an elected official — in any position — would you not seek out others to learn as much as you can? Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Kovach has only been discussing department issues with a few upset union members. He has based all his decisions, opinions and future plans on their comments. It was painful to watch Mr. Kovach “get caught with his pants down” upon learning that what he had been told by the union members was, in fact, not true.
A full working contract is indeed in place. There are ongoing negotiations about pay. The union members want double-digit pay increases, which the district cannot afford to give. Our firefighter/paramedics earn about $100,000 per year including benefits — full health insurance for the staff member and his/her family.
They work 24 hours shifts — sometimes 48 hour shifts. Some shifts are busy — others are not. One of their issues is the call-back plan. They want to work less, but refuse to allow the district to hire non firefighter/EMT personal for single-purpose transports. Also, hiring part-time per diem staff would save the district money, and allow the paid union staff to work less, but they reject the plan.
Union staff complain about being gone from home and family so much. Yes, they work 24-hour shirts — but they do, on average, nine shifts a month. There are still plenty of days to be home during the month, mid-week, weekends, ball games and dance recitals. Also, apparently unbeknownst to Mr. Kovach, the district has EAP programs to help staff through the critical calls, provides 100% paid medical benefits to the employees and their dependents, has chaplain services immediately available to assist with counseling needs, and would bring in a CISD team for severe incidents. They also are provided paid leave for both vacation and sick leave purposes.
Two other salient points: For all PCFD No. 1 taxpayers, it has been the district’s policy as far back as I can remember to accept what a person’s medical insurance pays for transports and services, and write off the balance. They believe that our community is supporting PCFD No. 1 through its tax dollars, so they don’t bill the difference for services. Second, Mr. Kovach announced in his meet and greet speech that he wants to make this department a really good one. Again, no due diligence. PCFD No. 1 has won, on several occasions, the State of Washington’s Management Excellence Awards at the State Fire Commissioner’s Conferences. We have an excellent fire department, and with continued excellent leadership from our commissioners, our management team and division chiefs, we will continue to grow and improve as new techniques and protocols come along!
A potential commissioner, new to our community, with no comprehension of a working fire/EMS department, limited community knowledge and understanding, preconceived biased opinions formed from chatting with a few union members, could only inhibit growth and foment discontent in the district at best, or cause reckless spending and a downward spiral of district assets.
Please vote for Dennis Long, Fire Commissioner for PCFD No. 1.