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Fire district gets mixed grades

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The Carbondale Fire District, as personified in its board of directors and staff, has done “yeoman’s work in navigating the department through very difficult economic times,” concluded a recently submitted draft analysis of the district’s operations.

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But, despite its reputation for efficient and effective fire-fighting and emergency-medical assistance, the district has a number of problems in its organizational structure, and should act before district staff fall victim to “burnout” and other negative effects appear, according to a draft master plan by Almont Associates, a Florida-based consultant.

The district in February hired two consulting firms — Mark Chain Consulting LLC of Carbondale and the Almont Associates — to divide between them the chores linked with an ongoing master planning effort, at a total cost of nearly $87,000.

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The two firms are splitting the contract for the master planning effort, with just over $53,000 going to the Chain group — which includes the RRC Associates survey and other outreach and public education efforts — and nearly $34,000 to the Almont firm, for a technical review of the department’s current operations and future needs (see related story for the work by the Chain group).

The 136-page draft Master Plan for the district, as depicted by the Almont report, is available for public review at the district’s website [carbondalefire.org). Among the problems cited by Almont, as outlined by a survey of “internal stakeholders” or members of the organization, are:

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• declining interest among community members to serve on the district’s board of directors;

• attendance at volunteer training events;

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• concerns about compensation and benefits for paid staff;

• questions about “board unification/

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direction,” meaning the comportment of the board in making policy decisions;

• and perceptions of a lack of open communication with the public about district issues.

A survey of “external stakeholders,” meaning taxpayers and constituents, laid out a lengthy list of “areas of strength (pride)” that indicated the district is perceived as providing “excellent service” by professional and attentive fire and medical crews, good outreach to the public by district staff, and generally a feeling that the department does a good job.

But other responses show a “perception of [a] ‘good ole boy’ network” in charge of the department, doubts about the “financial health” of the district, a lack of knowledge concerning the district’s operations, a need for “transparency in budget and spending,” and a “need [for] new blood or refreshments to the board,” among other perceived problems.

In a section titled “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” the top item on the “threats” list was, “negative press,” followed by such comments as “unwillingness to change,” “lack of volunteers,” “retention of talent,” and “public communication — they don’t understand the current capabilities of the district.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on July 16, 2015.

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