The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Editor 

Bear Creek Fire Department regroups, moves forward


Connie Bacon has officially been appointed the interim fire chief for the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department by Kenai Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

Bacon, who previously served as the administrative assistant for the fire department and as a volunteer, was a popular choice to serve while decisions are made about the future of the department. Former fire chief Mark Beals accepted the mayor and board's request to take a 90 day leave of absence after tensions in the department caused the mayor to get involved.

In a letter to the Bear Creek Fire Service Board and the volunteers, Navarre said he met with Bacon to discuss her plans for the Bear Creek Fire Department and to give her consideration for filling the chief's position during this interim period. Following that conversation, Navarre said he was confident that Bacon would be a good fit for the department, especially at this challenging time for the department.

"We are moving forward with great attitudes," said Bacon. "We are not going to revisit history but we don't want to repeat it."

Bacon said it is her job for the next 90 days to build up morale, listen to the volunteers, get to know them and bring people together. She said it is also her goal to the community more involved, the way it used to be.

"I've been reaching out to other fire departments," said Bacon. "The response has been great. The responders here are doing a great job."

The interim chief said just by appointing her, the mayor showed that he is listening. At one time, the mayor had consulted with former Seward Fire Chief Dave Squires about filling the position, but volunteers and the board expressed their desire to have Bacon appointed to keep from losing institutional history and knowledge.

Going forward, Navarre said he is going to listen to the board and the volunteers about their ideas for the department structure in the future.

"I just wanted at least 90 days for everyone to back away from the frustration and conflict so we can discuss things rationally with the volunteers and the board," said Navarre. "I'd like to know what they think works best for them."

Navarre said he is open to any structure or plan. Ultimately, the Borough does have oversight responsibility, said Navarre, so it has an obligation to make sure records are kept properly and administrative staff are trained. But, said Navarre, if the volunteers and board and community think having a volunteer fire chief and a paid administrative aide work best, he's willing to continue with the model.

"With Jim Wiles leaving in December, it frees up some of the budget," said the mayor, about the current training captain for the department. "We could contract out training or hire another full time trainer."

The mayor said going forward there are funding challenges. In hindsight, he said, a bond measure might not have been the best funding method for the fire department project because now there is a shortage in revenue for operating costs.

"I do wish we had just gone back to the legislature for more money to fund the new building but that would have delayed the entire project," he said. Increasing the mill rate is another option, but the mayor said that is likely to be unpopular because the rate was just raised.

All of these issues will be addressed in a strategic plan, said Navarre. With all parties at the table, he said he hopes they can map out the future for the department and do it with consensus.

"I think Connie is doing a great job," said the mayor. "She is reaching out and easing tensions and I think it's working."


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