Nasty split-up can't destroy esprit de corps

Friday, August 21, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This is a tale of two fire chiefs with great senses of smell. They know conflict stinks. But cooperation gives off the sweet scent of success.

Billy Goldfeder runs the new Mason Fire Department. Bill Kramer is in charge of Deerfield Township's new crew of firefighters.

Both fire chiefs work in a tense atmosphere laced with conflict. Bluntly put, their bosses hate each other.

Earlier this year, the long-running feud between Mason's city council and the township's trustees over annexation of tax-rich parcels of land broke up the Mason-Deerfield Joint Fire District. This led to the formation of the new departments that officially open for business in Warren County on Oct. 1.

Someone on the outside might assume that the chiefs would be all wrapped up in the conflict. They should be taking sides and bickering as they divvy up the assets of the old joint district.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The chiefs get along because they live by the same code: Do your best to fight fires and save lives.

"Everything else," Chief Goldfeder told me, "is irrelevant." No one will ever hear stories of them "struggling over a nozzle or pulling on opposite ends of a hose," said Bill Kramer.

"There were absolutely no conflicts," Billy Goldfeder declared. For emphasis, he slammed his fist onto the arm of the sofa he shared with Chief Kramer.

They sat in the den of Chief Goldfeder's home. The impact of his fist to his sofa's armrest shook a firefighter figurine on a nearby table.

"We're just two old firemen," Chief Goldfeder said as he playfully elbowed the guy sitting next to him. The sofa held a combined 58 years of firefighting experience.

"Cooperation is our fabric," he added. "It's what all firemen are made of."

There's no room for conflict in their business. "When the bell rings, we have lives to save."

To serve and cooperate

The chiefs split up the joint district's assets with an eye toward equity. Each group of firefighters received one new ambulance and a used one. Firetrucks and squad cars were divided along the same lines.

Firefighters were given their choice of department. There was no mass exodus from one to the other. Both departments will start out with staffs of 80, counting full and part-time firefighters.

Because the terms of the split-up gave 55 percent of the assets to the township and 45 percent to the city, Deerfield received the fire district's breathing equipment and other on-the-job gear, helmets, coats, boots and gloves.

The chiefs agreed that both departments would respond to highway accidents. When there's a house fire in the township, a unit from Mason will also be on the scene. The township will dispatch a firetruck to house blazes in Mason.

"No one department is stretched too thin," said Chief Goldfeder.

"We're always going to have borderline fires and ambulance runs," noted Chief Kramer.

"But, for us, the boundaries are going to be dissolved for the good of the community."

I like the way the chiefs think. Petty politics doesn't concern them. They work for the common good.

Bill Kramer and Billy Goldfeder know good things happen when dedicated people work together. That's how they plan to maintain the safety of the people who live in the houses and work at the businesses in this booming section of Warren County.

The old joint fire district kept citizens safe under the slogan, "Best care anywhere." That slogan is being retired. But the two fire chiefs have taken it to heart and are doing their best to keep it there.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.