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A third of this fire district’s staff just quit. What happens if there’s an emergency?

A third of Onalaska’s volunteer firefighters resigned after the district’s fire chief was fired by commissioners.
A third of Onalaska’s volunteer firefighters resigned after the district’s fire chief was fired by commissioners. Getty Images/iStockphoto

At least a third of Onalaska’s firefighters resigned this week because of the department’s disagreement with fire commissioners.

About a dozen firefighters put in their notice after Chief Andrew Martin was fired by the three-member Lewis County Fire Protection District 1 board.

“I resigned to support my chief,” Capt. Randy Tobler told KING-5 News. “We are a team. We train together. We fight together. We respond together.”

Martin told KOMO News that he wasn’t given a reason for his firing.

He told The Chronicle he believes his firing stemmed from an incident in which he reprimanded a firefighter who is related to a fire commissioner for allegedly buying an expensive stethoscope through the district and using it on her own time. The commissioners then asked him to reprimand the firefighter who reported the incident, but he wouldn’t.

“Basically what it comes down to is just conflicts of interest,” Martin told the newspaper. “It kind of started a while ago but it slowly progressed.”

Assistant Chief Rhonda Volk, now the acting chief, told Q13 FOX that she commends her former colleagues for standing their ground, but worries the department won’t be able to serve its community as it has in the past.

Tobler told KING-5 the smaller staff means it could now take as long as 30 minutes for people to get help during an emergency. However, a fire commissioner told the station he believes response times won’t change much because of mutual aid agreements with neighboring districts.

The firefighters who left said they’ll come back if two of the three commissioners resign or are recalled, according to KOMO.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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