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Savage Fire responds to record number of calls without a chief

The Savage Fire Department is responding to more calls for service than ever before, but city officials still haven’t announced a plan for replacing the fire chief who resigned two months ago.

The department answered a record-breaking 421 calls for service in 2018, and interim Fire Chief Andrew Slama said he expects to surpass the record by the end of the month.

The department’s busiest months of the year are still to come, Slama added. The department sees an uptick in calls related to carbon monoxide alarms and unattended cooking during the colder months.

“The increased demand is always going to continue to stress the system,” Slama said shortly after the department responded to the 410th call of 2019 on Wednesday.

Former chief Andrain Roach said lack of support from city leaders, around-the-clock demands and unrealistic expectations led him to resign, according to a resignation letter obtained by the Savage Pacer in August.

City Administrator Brad Larson said this week there will be an update on filling the position before the end of October. He said there’s “no specific reason” for the delay in announcing plans “other than taking our time to evaluate things.”

Meanwhile, discussion about the fire department’s service model and organizational structure, and whether they need to change, is on hold until the permanent chief is on board, he said.

Since 2000, the fire department has comprised 40 paid, on-call volunteer firefighters.

Slama said some moments show the system needs to change, especially when there’s a low turnout of responding firefighters. However, low turnout happens erratically, he said, and there aren’t any particular times of week that raise concerns.

He said the upward trend of calls and growth in Savage raise questions about how the department will provide the same level of service in the future.

‘Valuable ideas’

City officials discussed creating full-time firefighting positions this summer but said they wanted more information from the fire department before making a final decision.

Roach said in his resignation letter the Fire Department needs a full-time administrative assistant, an operations and training assistant chief and an additional deputy chief. He said it should also add a duty crew of full-time firefighters and supplement the demand with paid-on-call firefighters.

“It is unrealistic to think that a Fire Chief can effectively plan and strategically move an organization forward when they are stuck performing three major day to day roles (Fire Chief, Fire Marshal, and Emergency Management Director) all while responding to fire calls and performing the daily tasks of managing all aspects of a department with over 40 employees,” he wrote to city officials.

Dan Giles, a retired 25-year member of the fire department, voiced concerns over Roach’s resignation and the department’s future to the Savage City Council last month, saying the letter touched on “valuable ideas.”

“I feel we had a very good fire chief, and it’s unfortunate that we are going to lose him,” Giles said. “I think he’s opened a lot of eyes, not only for the city of Savage, but I think he’s opened a lot of eyes for the communities around, whether we like it or not.”

Roach’s resignation letter also described how he felt singled out because of his race when an article was left on his desk “without context or any notion of who had left it there.”

Roach said he communicated to the Human Resources department that he felt singled out and that it “deeply offended” him, and an investigation identified who left the article and the person’s explanation. However, he wrote, “no effort was made to reconcile the misunderstanding with me after several weeks of being notified of how this had made me feel.”

“I hope that it’s all been taken care of and resolved,” Giles said. “I hope that Savage isn’t that kind of city.”

City leaders have declined to comment on personnel information shared in the resignation letter, citing data privacy.