UPDATE 2/15/13 @ 5:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Karry Woody knows a lot about fires. A few years ago, her grandparents home in Ona was destroyed by one. Then this past summer, her home caught fire -- after an arson at the house next door.
“It was kinda scary,” Woody said. “I came home from church, and the side of my house was on fire, so I was kinda scared.”
That's why she's especially interested in Mayor Steve Williams plan to revamp the Huntington Fire Department. First on the mayor's agenda: a new fire chief. Carl Eastham retired from the fire department in 2011 and was the longtime president of the firefighter's union.
“If you have happy people, they will do a good job,” Eastham said. “This is not gonna be something that will be a quick fix or happen overnight; it's something we have to transition into and work toward that.”
Eastham says his first priority is restoring a sense of pride to the department, which will, in turn, make you safer. There's also a plan to create a fire prevention department to keep fires like this from happening.
“It'd make me feel a whole lot safer,” Woody said. “It'd make me feel good about my family being OK.”
There are several other big points to the mayor's plan: one is to increase the number of firefighters on the force. The city has applied for a grant that could add six positions soon.
Another is the possibility of building two new fire stations -- one along 20th Street at the site of the old ALLINONE and the other in Westmoreland.
The mayor says he plans to pay for these projects by collecting fines, fees and unpaid taxes.
He stresses there would not be any new taxes -- just making sure those that are already on the books are being collected from those who need to pay.
Mayor Steve Williams says Carl Eastham is replacing Randy Ellis as Chief.
Williams says he will ask City council to make Eastham’s appointment permanent at its meeting on February 25.
We’re told Ellis will return to his role as captain in the department.
Ellis has been Huntington’s Fire Chief since March 2012 when he was appointed to the post by former Mayor Kim Wolfe.
Eastham retired from the fire department in June 2011 after more than two decades of service. During that time, he served as union president of the local firefighter's association for 17 years.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
17-year department veteran Randy Ellis was sworn-in Wednesday morning.
Mayor Kim Wolfe says it was a very competitive selection process, but Ellis is described as a man of high integrity and great ability.
Ellis has experience as a seven-year safety and logistics officer and says he understands the challenges ahead, regarding tight budgets and adequate staffing to keep citizens and firefighters as safe as possible.
"A full staff is absolutely important for safety reasons for the public and our firefighters. In what way? The more man power we have the faster we will be able to take care of the problems we come upon," Ellis told WSAZ.com
Ellis received the Medal of Valor in 2007 for his work on the deadly Emmons Apartment fire.
Ellis beat out Francis Deleonibus from Pennsylvania, Dominick Lanaz, Jr., from Florida, and Jan Rader from Huntington.
Ellis replaces former chief C.Creig Moore, who resigned last November.
According to a release from Mayor Kim Wolfe, Captain Randy Ellis has been appointed as the new Chief of the Huntington Fire Department. His appointment is pending the approval of city council.
If approved by council, Ellis will be sworn in on March 21 at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
Ellis is a Huntington-area native and a 17-year veteran of the Huntington Fire Department. He has served the last seven years as the Safety and Logistics Officer for HFD. Ellis received the medal of valor in 2007 for his work on the Emmons Apartment fire.
"I would like to thank the Fire Chief Search Committee for their diligent work in finding the best candidate for this important position," said Mayor Wolfe. "While this was a competitive process, I am confident that the appointment of Ellis is the best choice for moving the Huntington Fire Department in a positive direction."
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
The four are Francis Deleonibus, Randy Ellis, Dominick Lanaz Jr. and Jan Rader.
Ellis and Rader are currently employed by the Huntington Fire Department.
Ellis has been a Captain with the department since 2006, and Rader has been a Captain and Training Officer with the department since 2006.
Francis Deleonibus is a Project Coordinator with Community College of Allegheny County, PA.
Dominick Lanza Jr. is a Battalion Chief with Osceola County Fire Rescue in Kissimmee, FL.
WSAZ.com got a sneak peek at a study that cost the city more than $30,000 to help improve public safety and reduce a big budget deficit.
We’re talking about a $4 million-plus deficit that has pitted the firefighters union against city leaders. The consultant, the McGrath group, is from Illinois.
Some say many of the challenges are the same old problems in a new wrapper.
With the thick and detained report in his hand for just a few minutes,
Huntington interim Fire Chief Ralph Rider was able to say something about staffing.
Rider notes that the review's recommendation to increase daily staffing (that had been cut from 28 to 19) back up to 25 firefighters would increase response availability. He said the city would have two more fire trucks on the road every day.
With the city budget cuts, some firefighters worried about too much dependence on mutual aid. The review calls for a new mutual aid plan and joint training with fire stations outside the city.
Interim Fire Chief Rider says Huntington already has mutual aid agreements, and Rider adds that future plans are to continue mutual aid. But he adds that as far as training with other departments, it has been limited in the past.
And with mold and asbestos infestation, the review suggests the downtown Centennial Station No. 1 be relocated to 5th Street and 12th Avenue -- or closed.
Rider says other downtown stations closing over the years have presented challenges.
“It has increased our response times in the extreme southwest area of the city," he said. "It would make sense to centrally locate. We used to have that; they did away with it.”
Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe says the fire department review affirms in some areas, stings in others and hopefully will be a blueprint for the future.
“We have to balance," Wolfe said. "You might have 25 here, but you have to take it from there. This is a comprehensive review. We want the best for public and firefighter safety with the money that we have.”
The review also calls for reducing the number of false alarms. Rider says he's working on some false alarm hot spots, but it’s a tough problem to control.
And the review advises an overhaul of the fire department's data and records system. Rider says that's been a long-term problem that will take years and money to fix.
The fire department review company will present its finding to Huntington City Council and the mayor at 5 p.m. Thursday in council chambers.
According to a release from Mayor Kim Wolfe, back in September 2011 the City of Huntington hired McGrath Consulting Group to do a comprehensive review of the Huntington Fire Department.
Tuesday, the results of the study were released.
During the review, the consultants focused on the following areas:
According to the release, over 150 recommendations relating to the governance and operation of the department were pointed out in the study.
Some of the recommendations include:
"The consultants have provided an unbiased analysis of the department and its functions, affirming in some areas and stinging in others," said Mayor Kim Wolfe. "In reading the recommendations, it would be easy to focus on two or three, but contemplation on each recommendation will be critical to the improvement of the department."
The audit was voted on, and approved, by council back in September due to money problems within the department.
WSAZ.com's Randy Yohe is working to talk with the Huntington Fire Department in response to the report.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.
Mayor Kim Wolfe announced Rider’s appointment Thursday afternoon during a Huntington City Council work session
Rider replaces Chief Creig Moore who announced earlier this week that he was resigning effective Friday.
Rider has been with the department for 22 years. He began his fire career with the Ona Volunteer Fire Department at age 16.
Rider is currently the West Virginia Regional Response Team Region 6 leader. He is also a member of the West Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Team. Rider is also a faculty member for the Tri-State Fire Academy and a fire service instructor with RESA and an adjunct instructor for the West Virgina University Fire Extension Service.
Rider said he has no immediate plans to make changes to the department.
Rider told WSAZ.com that he would probably not stay on as the permanent chief because he is towards the end of his career, but it is a decision he would have to make down the road.
"We received the letter this (Monday) morning, said the mayor. "We had some discussions prior to the mutual agreement. I have a lot of respect for Chief Moore and the professionalism he brought the the city."
Chief Moore's hiring was controversial from the beginning. At that time, Councilman Francis Jackson opposed hiring Moore. She preferred an internal candidate get the job.
The firefighter's union also had many grievances with Chief Moore including harassment, multiple absences, using city vehicle for personal reasons and safety issues. It was their complaints that lead to the current financial investigation.
"It was a difficult fit, is the best way to put it," said union president Ray Canafax. "He did some good things, but it's tough to do with financial constraints. There were some good things. I'm not here to talk bad about the man. He decided to move on and I wish him the best."
Ray Canafax also said that any grievances against the Chief are now moot.
Chief Moore could not be reached for comment. His last day will be this Friday.
In a press release, Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe says Fire Chief Creig Moore issued his resignation effective Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.
Moore is a 35-year veteran to the fire service.
According to Wolfe, Moore aided aided the City in developing a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) by procuring grant funds and establishing the plan. He increased the City's ISO score, implemented industry best practices, and emphasized training during his tenure as fire chief.
"I wish Creig continuing success as he goes into the next chapter of his life; I sincerely appreciate the professionalism he has brought to the department." Wolfe said. "Although, his time with us has been brief he has made tremendous strides in bringing best practices and new approaches to the way we provide fire service, albeit with budgetary constraints that have plagued the City for years."
An interim Fire Chief will be named on Thursday, Nov. 10.
An official search for the next Huntington Fire Chief will begin early February 2012, upon the completion of the comprehensive review of the Huntington Fire Department that is being conducted by McGrath Consultants of Wonder Lake, Ill. The consulting firm will present its findings to administrators the latter part of January 2012.
The reason why Moore is retiring has not been disclosed.
Because of problems in the Fire Department's budget, the city hired McGrath Company from Illinois.
Council says the company has to have its findings in by January.
After a nearly hour executive session Monday night, closed to the media and the public, council members referred the item back to committee.
The issue centers around Fire Chief Creig Moore and the "no confidence" vote he was recently hit with by his own firefighters.
"It's become an uncomfortable place to work," Huntington firefighter Ray Canafax said. "It's just a very strange feeling right now. We don't know where we stand. We don't know what's going to happen with the chief. We don't know what's going to happen."
Firefighters say their national union offers free consulting services, suggesting that council accept the offer.
They say public safety is a key concern.
Thursday, the union took a list of grievances to Mayor Kim Wolfe.
At the afternoon meeting, firefighters said they did not get all their points in.
The mayor had another meeting, so, the two sides will continue on Monday.
This all follows an overwhelming union vote of no confidence against fire Chief Creig Moore.
And firefighters say the department is in turmoil.
Mayor Wolfe and firefighter union leaders met for an hour and a half.
The union complaints against chief more include harassment, multiple absences, dishonesty with city council -- and most importantly -- lapses in safety.
Chief Moore would not comment, except to say these issues did not belong in the media, and he would have a rebuttal to the union claims.
After the meeting both sides said there was more work to do.
The union folks said they made as many points as possible, the mayor had another commitment, and we they come back on Monday and start again.
Mayor Wolfe said he listened to their points of contention and will consider each one individually.
The union and the mayor will meet again on Monday.
Also Monday, Huntington’s city council's public safety committee will meet to discuss the safety issues raised by the union allegations.
UPDATE 6/27/11 @ 10:45 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A vast majority of firefighters in the city of Huntington are asking for their leader, Fire Chief C. Creig Moore, to be replaced.
At Monday's City Council meeting, the firefighter's union announced the results of a "vote of no confidence" held within the department. Of the 83 valid votes cast, 81 voted they did not have confidence in the ability of Moore to lead the Huntington Fire Department. Two voted they did.
Local 289 President Ray Canafax, Jr. told WSAZ.com the union formed a committee to investigate reasons for a vote of no confidence against Moore. That list was handed out at Monday's Council meeting.
The following is a list of complaints the firefighter's union submitted to City Council:
1. Moore's dishonesty with City Council on several occasions, causing harm to the reputation and integrity of the Huntington Fire Department.
2. Moore's continuous use of derogatory statements when referring to Local 289 and West Virginia State Civil Service Law.
3. Moore's multiple absences during crucial times of the year, such as during budgetary sessions.
4. Moore's inability to operate within the current fiscal budget year.
5. Moore's unwillingness to address safety issues brought forth by the Union Executive Board.
6. Chief Moore's questionable leadership skills:
- Lack of consistency when using the chain of command.
- Fueling low morale.
- Lack of respect for seniority within the department.
- Poor listening skills.
- Changes of Rescue 11 running orders, causing safety concerns among officers.
7. Manipulation of agreements between the Union and the Fire Chief's office on operational issues that were negotiated signed or verbally agreed upon by both parties.
8. Singling out/harassment of subordinates.
9. Driving of a city vehicle for personal use.
10. Mishandling of West Virginia Regional Response Team -- Region 6 (possible breach of memorandum of understanding).
"To make it as clear cut as I can, the membership has spoken and with the overwhelming majority saying they have no confidence in the Fire Chief, I think the resolution we need," Canafax said, "We need this Fire Chief replaced."
At Monday's Council Meeting, Mayor Kim Wolfe said the issue was a personnel issue not to be discussed in Council by Council Members.
Huntington Fire Chief Creig Moore came under scrutiny after City Council members discovered $120,000 of city money had made it's way into the Fire Department's bank account without their approval.
"City Council has one responsibility: to oversee the budget to the point that we the council members are personally responsible," Chair of the Finance Committee Steve Williams said. "Frankly, it's something I missed and I'm embarrassed to say I missed it."
The budget mishap was a catalyst to Huntington fire fighters, who put out a unanimous vote of "no confidence" Tuesday night. The local union's president, Ray Canafax, says the union has no confidence in Chief Moore's leadership ability or his relationship with the Council.
"Maybe this will open some eyes and some things will change without losing our fire chief," Canafax said. "I'm not saying that has to happen, I do think he has some potential to do things here, but some major change has to happen."
Fingers were pointed at Mayor Kim Wolfe's administration and at Chief Moore for the money being moved into the Fire Department account. Chief Moore faced Council and fellow firefighters to admit he messed up.
"There are changes that need to be made in terms of budget management and I will take full responsibility for that as a department head; that is on me," Chief Moore said.
Wednesday's special meeting was called so Council members could decide what to do. They were caught in a "catch-22", because while they needed to take the money back for employee payroll -- the Fire Department said it desperately needed the money to pay firefighters. Because safety of Huntington's citizens is above all else, Council voted to leave $90,000 in the Fire Department's account, something Council Chair Mark Bates said he hopes does not set a precedent.
"I'm glad that we put public safety first tonight, however, I am concerned that this could send a message to other departments that they don't have to worry about the budget," Bates said.
At the meeting, Councilman Jim Insco brought up the lack of air conditioning at the Fire Department, a story that has made recent headlines as a recent development. The Fire Department recently asked for more money to fix the broken air conditioner -- Insco said that's something they should have dealt with when it was first brought up back in October 2010 and not have waited until summer.
"You knew about the air conditioner in October of last year, that is fact, I have documents," Insco said. "So don't come in here and try to tell us you didn't know when the truth will come out."
While the budget issue brought to light underlying problems in the fire department between fire fighters and the chief, Mayor Wolfe said he stands beside the man he hired.
"He's got impeccable credentials, integrity is unquestionable," Wolfe said. "He's making changes I think is for the better, he has 100 percent of my approval."
Chief Moore declined to comment after the meeting, saying Mayor Wolfe asked him not to.
The next City Council meeting is set for June 13.
Council Chair Mark Bates told WSAZ.com the City needs that money to make its payroll by Thursday, June 9.
There are a lot of questions about the fire department's recent purchases -- equipment that maybe should have been bought but wasn't, as well as other equipment that maybe wasn't a priority but was purchased anyway.
The new fiscal year starts in July, so what happens budget wise between now and then is vital to the city.
But when members of council noticed a nearly $120,000 line item in the fire department budget for overtime, after the fact, it raised a red flag. On Thursday, the city’s Finance Committee voted to yank the money from the Fire Department's budget.
"The money is finite,” Mayor Kim Wolfe said. “We have to spend within our means. There are going to be times when certain departments need additional funds to cover unforeseen circumstances. In this scenario, we don't feel this was unforeseen.
“We'll get through it. I mean there are some hiccups in the things. Look, everybody wants the same thing -- safety for our citizens. The firefighters do a great job. We'll make sure they have the equipment and funding they need to get through the next 30 days."
City Councilman Nate Randolph said, “As a council and a finance committee, we take some responsibility for this because we didn't press them on each individual department … If that had happened, we would have caught it at that time.”
Randolph went on to say, “I don't think there's anything nefarious that happened. It’s more of -- we felt the money was being dedicated to one thing, and subsequently it went to something else. It's quite possible both sides thought they made it clear as to what the intention was.”
The full city council will vote on the finance committee's recommendation at their next meeting. Randolph says the money represents just 1 percent of the fire department's budget for the fiscal year, which ends next month. He says the fire department can move other funds around to cover the shortfall.
While some on council referred to the matter as a "shell game," Mayor Kim Wolfe's administration said it was simply miscommunication.
Councilman Steve Williams said Wolfe's administration never told council about the fire department's request for an increase when the overall budget was voted on in March.
But the administration says there was nothing misleading about the vote.
When the finance committee meets again, it will have a full transcript of the budget vote to see if the increase was ever discussed.
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