Sparks fly over Redfield fire department measure

REDFIELD — More than three dozen supporters of the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department stood for more than three hours Tuesday evening at City Hall to demonstrate their support for the department, voicing opposition to a proposed ordinance to bring the organization’s structure into compliance with state law.

The proposal was placed on first reading Tuesday and if it follows normal procedure will be up for the second of three required readings in May.

Alderman Darrell Hedden, who offered the proposed ordinance, apologized “for the firestorm I have created.”

However, he emphasized that a number of municipal ordinances, some dating back decades, must be addressed to determine if they comply with existing state and federal laws.

Fire Chief Dennis McFatridge said members of the volunteer department and Redfield Volunteer Fire Association were not consulted on the proposed change and were opposed to Hedden’s proposal.

McFatridge said the Redfield volunteer organization can trace its roots to 1973 when a woman’s auxiliary was formed, explaining the auxiliary was dissolved in 1977 when the volunteer department was established by an ordinance.

The volunteer department has a station immediately west of City Hall, while the non-profit association has stations on Arkansas 365 north of Redfield and one in the Jefferson community. The association was established to provide firefighting personnel for a large unincorporated area of northern Jefferson County outside the Redfield city limits.

McFatridge said it is not uncommon for more volunteers with the association who live outside Redfield to turn out to fight fires in Redfield than local residents, describing the working relationship as “a kind of marriage.”

The 1977 ordinance called for the chief of the Redfield volunteer department to be appointed by the city council, with the chief responsible for equipment, control and management of the department.

An ordinance adopted in May 1987 noted the Redfield volunteer department had been assisted “for many years” by members of the “Redfield Rural Volunteer Fire Association,” adding aldermen wished “to continue having the functions of the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department performed by the members of the Redfield Rural Volunteer Fire Association.”

The 1987 ordinance also required that municipal funds appropriated by the city for the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department remain segregated from the association’s monies to comply with state law. It also required the treasurer of the rural association to serve as treasurer of the municipal volunteer department.

Floyd Johnson, who served as Redfield’s mayor in 1987, urged the council Tuesday not to adopt Hedden’s proposal.

It was standing room only inside City Hall Tuesday from 7 p.m. until after 10 p.m. during the council meeting, with a dozen firefighters and supporters of the volunteers standing outside and following the debate through an open door.

Under Hedden’s proposal, the chief of the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department “shall be appointed” by the mayor with the approval of a majority of the city’s aldermen. The latter is a requirement of state law.

McFatridge said the volunteer firefighters should have been consulted before any changes were considered. Hedden said he would meet with McFatridge “one-on-one” to consider any changes in the department’s procedures, but the chief said the department doesn’t operate that way.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

• Repealed the ordinance adopting the 2012 municipal budget, and then by an identical 5-1 vote adopted the same budget by resolution. Alderman Sandra Garrett cast the “no” vote on both measures.

• Placed on first reading a proposed ordinance establishing agenda requirements for council meetings.

• Tabled action on two proposed ordinances, including one to authorize the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department to respond to medical emergencies, fight fires and operate beyond the corporate limits of Redfield.

• Recognized Diann Smith, chairman of the Redfield Parks Commission, for being honored as “Professional of the Year” by the Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association for her volunteer efforts.