Wednesday, May 09, 2001

Mason turmoil

Fire chief burns his bridges

        Mason should install a revolving door outside its fire chief's office.

        The Warren County boom town has had four different chiefs since October.

        H. Michael Drumm — chief No. 3 — submitted his resignation Monday. Dogged by controversy, he barely lasted two months.

        “Bottom line,” said long-time Councilwoman Betty Davis, “it wasn't a good fit.”

        Firefighters told me that's putting it mildly.

        The former chief came off as a rude disciplinarian, making up arbitrary rules as he went along. He discouraged off-duty firefighters from dropping by the fire house. He attempted to change things they hold sacred, such as uniforms and even the decor of the firehouse. His actions tried to extinguish the “esprit” in the department's esprit de corps. And he made unpopular staffing changes.

        Long-timers quit in disgust.

        By their accounts, Chief Drumm was a bad fit for department morale and the firefighters' pride. Ultimately, that could have affected the well-being of the citizens of Mason.

Proud teammates
        To find out what's going on with the men and women who put their lives on the line putting out blazes in Mason, I sat down for a round-table discussion with nine of the city's firefighters.

        They brought a combined 102 years worth of firefighting experience to the table.

        Since Feb. 26, when the Drumm reign began, they have also endured months of turmoil.

        Even with Chief Drumm's resignation, firefighters are still afraid. They feel what they say may be used against them. They'll lose the jobs they love. So, they asked me not to use their names.

        “This is a dedicated and close-knit group,” said one fireman.

        “We depend upon each other. At a fire, your life is in their hands.”

        He told me how he passed up a promotion and raise at his day job because he'd have to travel and give up his job as a firefighter.

        “I love what I do here,” he said.

        “We work well together. We help people. That's more important than money.”

        That's the thing about firefighters. They don't do this dangerous job for the dough or the glamour.

        They do it out of dedication and teamwork. Duties are performed with precision. Mistakes kill.

        Firefighters don't just see themselves as co-workers. They are a family, interdependent and proud.

        The firefighters I spoke with were most upset by the department's staffing changes. Recent resignations and new rules had smaller crews making ambulance runs and fighting fires.

        The staffing changes weren't below legal limits.

        They were below Mason's high standards.

        “On an ambulance run,” noted one firefighter, “you're not just taking care of the injured person.

        “You need people to comfort the family, too.”

        Councilwoman Davis promised that the firefighters' concerns would be addressed during the city's latest selection process for a new fire chief.

        “The importance of how the fire department responds in times of crisis is going to be made clear to whoever fills that spot next.”

        Do that, please.

        Mason has a dedicated bunch of employees riding its firetrucks.

        Such devotion to duty should be encouraged.

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


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