Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

TOP STORY > >Sherwood fire board adds candidate

Leader staff writer

It wasn’t the fact that the Sherwood Fire Board took about two hours to interview three applicants for the full-time Sherwood fire chief position that angered a number of the department’s firefighters.

It was the 20 minutes the board spent interviewing a fourth candidate who was not on the agenda that had upset the group and caused one firefighter to demand that the board go ahead and interview the current head of the department, Chief Frank Hill, and the other three candidates the board had passed on at its previous meeting.

With the board committing at least a procedural mistake, if not a legal violation by bringing in a fourth candidate, Alderman Butch Davis was seeking help from the county judge to have a cooling-off period as allegations arose that the fire department may have misappropriated more than $3,600 in salaries.

After interviewing David Teague, a battalion chief from Memphis; Phillip Flynn, a former North Little Rock firefighter and a full-time lieutenant with the Sherwood Fire Department, and Andy Traffanstedt, the Gravel Ridge fire chief and a part-time captain with the Sherwood department — another applicant, Alan Ford, was called into the board’s executive session.

Ford is a former board member and currently a captain with the Little Rock Fire Department.

Soon after Ford’s interview, the board reconvened in public and with no fanfare said they would meet again at 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday at the fire station to discuss the 2009 budget and any decision they will make regarding to hiring a full-time chief.

The board then adjoined.

Firefighters and others tried to get an explanation as to why the board interviewed someone who was not on the list of final candidates.

Commissioner Mike Anderson said, “Ford was not on the list, not on the agenda, and I feel it was wrong to have brought him in.”

So why was Ford called in? Anderson said it was at the request of the board chairman Michael Dupslaff.

Commissioner Tom Brooks said, “It was a courtesy to the chairman that we talked to Ford. Once he came in we could just tell him to leave,” Brooks explained.

Dupslaff did not give the disgruntled firefighters any reason for why Ford was called in, only saying that the public would have input at Tuesday’s meeting when the chief’s position comes up again on the agenda.

When asked then if Hill and the other applicants would get an interview since Ford did, Brooks said no.

At the board’s previous meeting, Mayor Virginia Hillman tried to get the board to consider a letter she introduced calling for the board to stop its efforts to convert the department from a part-time chief to a full-time chief until Sherwood officials and residents could give input.

The board refused to take up the suggestion because it was not on the agenda, yet allowed a candidate not on the agenda Thursday night to be interviewed.

Also earlier in the week Alderman Butch Davis tried to talk to County Judge Villines, who appoints the fire board commissioners, to ask him to have the board halt the search for 30 to 60 days to allow everyone to calm down. But Villines was out of town. “This whole thing is just snowballing out of control,” Davis said.

He was also concerned about who the board is supposed to represent. “If it’s the people of Sherwood, they aren’t listening,” Davis said.

Then there are the allegations of improper salary payments that are coming to the board’s attention. In approving its 2008 budget early last year, the board authorized hourly salary payments of $9.20, $10.20 and $11.20 to firefighters based on experience, rank and position.

But a number of firefighters received an hourly wage of $12.20 an hour, a dollar more than the board supposedly approved.

These extra payments total $3,625 which could make it a felony if an investigation shows criminal wrongdoing. At this point, the board has not asked for an investigation.

The fire department, which encompasses all of Sherwood, is not a municipal fire department but a fire-protection district department under the control of the county judge and the five-member board. The board members are appointed by the judge without any city input.

The board received eight resumes for the full-time position, including one from the current fire chief.

In a meeting earlier this month, the board narrowed down the field of applicants to Traffanstedt, Flynn and Teague.

According to his resume, Traffanstedt has been involved in fire service since 1982 and has worked with the Little Rock, Sherwood and Gravel Ridge fire departments. The Gravel Ridge Fire Department, like the Sherwood department, is under the control of the county.

Traffanstedt has been the Gravel Ridge fire chief since 1993 and is also the chief of the Pulaski County Hazardous Materials Response Team. He has a Firefighters III certification, as well as state and national certification as a paramedic.

In his application, Traffanstedt has asked for a guaranteed five-year contact, a take home department vehicle and to be allowed to appoint his own command staff.

Flynn is a long-time resident of Sherwood and has 28 years of public safety service, according to his resume. He also has a Firefighters III certification, and is also a certified fire arson investigator and Arkansas law enforcement officer.

Flynn has worked as the public- safety officer at Camp Robinson and spent 23 years with the North Little Rock Fire Department, reaching the rank of captain.

He has asked the board for a minimum of a two-year contract.

Teague says his background and education in emergency services has prepared him to lead the Sherwood department. As a battalion chief in Memphis, he is in a mid-level management position in a department that includes 1,700 people and 59 stations.

According to his resume, Teague has served as the director of emergency medical services for Cleburne Memorial Hospital in Heber Springs and spent 23 years with the Southbend Volunteer Fire Department in Lonoke County. He also owns and operates Klad Co., a consulting and inspection firm for large roofing systems, and David Teague Roofing Co. Both are in Jacksonville.

Teague has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from the University of Memphis and has attended various courses at the National Fire Academy in Maryland.