Utah fire district service suspended amid accusations of firefighter insubordination

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PARK CITY — Summit County has suspended fire service from the North Summit Fire District and called on Park City firefighters to cover those calls, after officials claim insubordination and dereliction of duty from the district's firefighters.

"There is an organized effort by some of the firefighters to simply not take shifts," said Summit County Manager Tom Fisher. "And they're doing that because they have some level of grievance."

Fisher says it's been difficult to sort out what the grievance is.

He says he found out about it last week when the volunteer North Summit Fire District got a call for help. Fisher says emergency medics responded, but the on-call firefighter decided not to respond.

The call last Monday was for a beloved mother and educator who had been shot when her rifle went off accidentally in Echo Canyon. She ultimately died in what authorities described as a tragic hunting accident.

It's unclear whether the firefighter's response would have impacted the outcome. But Fisher said it was an incident "worthy of investigation" to see if there would be any recourse.

"The risk of potential harm is there," he said. "When a system is not running properly, that increases the risk."

The fire deputy at North Summit has been the acting chief since the chief was dismissed over the fall. Fisher couldn't comment on the exact reason for his dismissal, but said it is related to the ongoing problems with firefighters.

The day after the incident in Echo Canyon, Fisher said the acting fire chief stepped down, telling members of the administrative control board who oversee the North Summit district that his firefighters were not filling the on-call shifts and were disobeying orders.

Fisher said he came to the board and said, "I no longer have leadership control of the firefighters."

On Friday, that board — which reports to the Summit County Council — met with frustrated county and city officials to discuss how to move forward with the fire district.

"It's unconscionable to me. We're failing and we've got to fix it," one man said during the recorded meeting, which is available on YouTube.

Referring to the firefighters, one woman said, "They are public servants. They don't pick and choose whether to respond or not. They're on call. They respond. Period."

Fisher said the firefighters in North Summit are technically volunteers, made up of civilians who have other jobs. A handful of them are professional firefighters who work full-time in other cities or districts.

Firefighters choose when they are on-call. And Fisher said, even though they are volunteers, they do receive a set wage during their on-call hours. If they respond to a call, they are compensated at a set hourly rate.

For now, the Park City Fire District is responding to calls in the North Summit Fire District.

Fisher acknowledged it's a large area and "we have to be careful about how we cover this service, because it could be a strain."

Fisher said the county's primary concern is that there is fire service. He said the board and County Council will work with the public to determine what that service will look like in North Summit moving forward.

"We want to assure the people of North Summit that there is adequate fire protection right now," he said. "It's not being provided in exactly the same way."

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Matt Rascon


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