Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Acting Chief Darren White can now be referred to as "chief" after an administrative action Tuesday, Aug. 21.
After much debate, the FMB Board of Fire Commissioners approved the title modification by a slim 3-2 count. White, who was assistant chief under former fire chief Mike Becker before Becker officially resigned March 6, had been assuming duties for both roles for just under six months.
Commissioner David Brower and Beach Fire Attorney Richard Pringle will work out the details for a new contract involving salary, benefits and educational requirements. A recruiting process for assistant chief will now be conducted.
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Beach Fire Chief Darren White.
"We just can't keep stringing him along as interim chief," said Commissioner John Scanlon, who made the approval motion. "It needs to be done. We need a figurehead. We also only have one administrative officer. If he goes down, gets sick or leaves town, we have nobody to run the department."
Commissioner Carol Morris, one of the dissenters, did not offer a favorable vote due to procedural reasons. Her dissatisfaction centered on her belief there should have been at least one workshop to discuss position descriptions and qualifications for both chief and assistant chief.
"It's kind of like all of this went on the back burner. I was certainly willing to evaluate, but nothing has happened," she said.
In his dual roles, White has been involved in preparing and attending fire board workshops and meetings and other meetings involving ARM 360 Training, shift commanders, Lee County fire chiefs, Lee County Area Command, USAR Board of Directors as well as regular daily operations, overseeing reports, payroll and bills. He agreed the numerous tasks have become overwhelming.
"It's all blending into one," said White. "There are a lot of things right now that, if they are not mission critical, they are being put on the back burner. That's not the type of person I am. I like to keep things moving forward."
Brower admitted to wanting an administrator under chief's realm.
"My original position and thought was that, while we are a fire district and not a traditional fire service that is run by a town or county where there is a chief executive officer, we should have a fire chief and CEO-type person who would be under the fire chief and handle all the administrative duties." he said. 'This is clearly an indication we need two people."
Libbey Anderson gave a presentation at an April 3 workshop during one of three phases in leadership training. Under the same consultation fee, she is completing her last phase on chief duties and district analysis and was reported to be almost finished in her task.
"Libbey's task was to do a job analysis of the duties performed by personnel and come back with a division of duties," said White. Beach Fire Administration includes an assistant, financial director, medical officer and fire inspection officer as well as the acting chief.
"I thought that we needed to fill both roles. But I thought, once we lost Chief (Becker), we had an opportunity to possibly realign using Anderson's descriptions and everything else and make this a real positive and move forward," said Commissioner Ted Schindler.
White stated once Anderson's analysis is complete, changes to job descriptions for fire chief and assistant fire chief will be incorporated during the recruitment for assistant fire chief.
More fire personnel to be hired
Before securing its fire chief, the Beach Fire District approved the hiring five line personnel and two fire prevention specialists to meet a staffing need in the near future. Authorization was given by the fire board Tuesday evening.
Two motions were made to satisfy the upcoming employment. A 4-1 count approval was for two additional line personnel at the entry-level position in the pay matrix and two fire prevention specialists. The unanimous second motion was an amendment of a previous request to hire three other line personnel at the entry-level position in the pay matrix. The amendment was to hire them at the entry level position in the pay matrix as well.
Chief White pushed to give some of his key officers needed time off.
"Mid- to low-staffing is creating an issue," he said. "The premise is a safety issue not meeting standards."
Before the approval, Schindler asked to see the impact the hiring's would have on overtime hours. In July, there was a reported 1,135 hours of overtime for a total of $18,325.44. He would have preferred to wait on the hiring's.
"I realize we are bringing in lower level guys, so it may not have much impact at all," he said. 'This adds to the overall cost of business."
Union rep Troy Mesick thought probationary-level hires would not help cut back on overtime hours due to the many OT hours accrued from engineers and officers.
Scanlon believed the hiring's needed to be done sooner than later, due to setting next fiscal year's budget and time for training before next season. Commissioner Betty Goodacre agreed.
"We should act on it instead of just putting it off every month," she said. "Pretty soon, we will be into season and will be back in trouble. We need people now."