Training at issue in fire chief's dismissal

CERRO GORDO -- After almost 30-years of service, one firefighter will have to take his dedication somewhere else. That's because he was let go. Randy West has been the fire chief for more than half that time.

Monday night, the Fire Protection District Board of Trustees let the other volunteer firefighters in on the news. Many didn't take it lightly. WCIA-3's Erica Quednau has more.

Some of the volunteer firefighters walked out of the meeting, but not before quitting. One volunteer says Chief West was the best thing for the district.

He's leaving behind 15,000 hours of volunteer service and, in his time, responded to more than 5,000 alarms.

"It used to be a bunch of guys showed up, put your rubber boots on and go squirt water. Those times are gone. It requires dedication to be able to do the training."

It's training Randy West says lost him his title. He and his son, the deputy chief, required their volunteers to meet state requirements.

"There were two or three volunteers who objected to the trustees with the amount of training we were doing."

But, when they wouldn't change their program, "he asked me to remove him from the entire roster. Not from the deputy chief position, but from the entire roster. And I was not willing to do that."

So, the trustees asked him to resign.

"My record shows my ability to do the job. So I said, 'If you want to get rid of me, you can just fire me.'"

Instead, they decided not to reappoint West as fire chief.

"They just threw me completely off the roster. It has to do with the philosophy differences that the trustees have between his management style of the volunteers."

T.J. Shaumbaugh is the president of the Fire Protection District Board of Trustees. He says their decision to let West go had nothing to do with training methods.

"That's just not the case. We want as much training as we can get for our volunteers, but it has to be training that volunteers want to come to."

But West says that decision is costing the district.

"You can be a fireman, drive up and down the road in a firetruck with red lights and sirens on it. That's not getting the job done. My people are trained to tackle any situation in a professional manner and for the life's safety of the people in the district. Those people are all gone."

The trustees have appointed Steve Rittenhouse as the interim fire chief. His job is to mentor someone from the district to take the position.

The number of volunteers who quit Monday night is unclear. 26 were part of the district before West was let go. He says there are only three left. Shaumbaugh says twelve are left.

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