Keyes Fire Department is facing criticism of its organization, including claims that fire response was delayed at three recent structure fires, and that the department too heavily relies on mutual aid from neighboring agencies.
Roger Jones, who stepped down as Keyes Fire in 2002, leveled criticism of the department and Keyes Fire Chief Erik Klevmyr at its Aug. 8 meeting.
"They've lost more houses since Erik took over than we've lost in my whole 30 years on the department," claimed Jones. "We lost three houses in two nights here."
A number of Keyes residents posted on the Keyes City News Facebook page that firefighters seemed to be taking their time getting water on a Sunday morning, July 30 structure fire at 5301 Ninth Street. The fire spread to and heavily damaged the adjacent Greener residence.
Jones claims there was no chief on scene to direct suppression activities.
"What the people are complaining about in town is they don't see a chief officer so the guys' standing there not knowing what to do because they're young, fresh out of the academy," said Jones. "Nobody's directing them. I talked to like 20 people who said they stood there for a long time."
Keyes Fire Chief Erik Klevmyr said he doesn't understand those claims but since he was not on the initial engine can't speak to their allegations.
"I've heard different sides of different stories. What you just related is not true," Klevmyr told the Courier. "There was a captain on the first arriving engine. They got a water supply, a five-inch hose from a hydrant and a two-and-a-half inch hose on the involved residence as well as the exposure."
Jones said Keyes Fire relies too much on mutual aid from other agencies and claims the department has not done enough to process applications and turned down some. He said most of the firefighters hired by Keyes Fire are graduates of fire academies.
"There's no one in town on that department that's volunteer," said Jones. "When I was on the department, we didn't have a problem getting volunteers in town or lived out in the country in our district."
The Keyes Fire Department remains a volunteer fire agency but stringent requirements and time commitments typically result in only those attending the fire academy with sights set on a career, said Klevmyr. Gone are the days of Mayberry when town druggists, shop keepers and insurance salesmen jumped on the truck and rolled to fight fires.
"I would love to see more community involvement in the fire department," said Klevmyr. "Currently we typically have maybe one person that lives in the district on our fire department and that's partly because of the sleeper program so it makes it easier for people who are beginning their career in the fire service to come and take part in that volunteer fire department." He said the program is great for those who are "proactive in getting education and being there and getting the experience."
Many people interested in being volunteer firefighters don't have the time to attend hours of training or be available at the station, the chief said.
"A lot of employers don't understand the need and desire and not everybody is interested in making that commitment so having people who are early in their career is really good because we get these guys who are proactive and really want to take part."
Volunteers are paid only a small stipend for day coverage. He said prospective applicants are encouraged to hang out at trainings and speak to firefighters. Applications are accepted through the department's website, keyesfire.com and acted upon when the next academy training is offered. Applicants must undergo a panel interview, physical agility test and medical physical and background check.
Jones recently brought up other issues with the Keyes Fire Department. He alleged that the department sold a firefighter a district pickup for $5,000 and never transferred title and alleged the "kid was running around with (government) exempt plates on the truck."
"I think there was a misunderstanding on his part as to what was happening with it," said Klevmyr. "It's not in our possession at this point. It was sold at an auction."
Klevmyr said the board decided to sell the pickup through an auction yard but for a while it stayed at the fire station and was used to make runs to Home Depot to fetch products for training.
Jones is also critical of the department failing to confiscate illegal fireworks and failing to cite property owners for maintaining tall dry weeds.
"He (Erik) goes, ‘Well we don't do that because we don't want the people getting liens against their properties.' That was part of my job as the chief there. I would go out and post to all the properties. So basically they're not doing fire prevention."
Klevmyr said he explained to Jones that Keyes Fire does fire prevention through a contract with the county fire warden's office but that at the beginning of summer he drives around and posts notices and most are clean.
"We always do weed abatement," said Klevmyr. "A lot of the times what we do is public education and the importance of cleaning their alleys, cleaning their properties so fires don't spread."
He doesn't like to "force clean" properties because some residents would be financially responsible for cleaning illegal dumping on their portion of alleyways.
"It's hard for me to justify just immediately force cleaning somebody's alley and therefore having a lien on somebody's property for stuff they didn't dump there that they may not be able to afford taking to the dump in the first place. I try to talk to them and work with them."
The Keyes MAC has arranged free dump days once a year, he said.
Roger Jones himself was embroiled in controversy in 2004 when he was terminated as assistant chief and his father Eddie Jones as chief as fallout for the Alexas Jones pornographic website controversy.
Klevmyr said he is "very proud of that fire department and where it is now compared to where it has been."