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Feeling the heat

Accusations of mistreatment from Amador Fire Protection District volunteers grow louder

  • 5 min to read
AFPD

“I’m writing this with a heavy heart. I’ve written and re-written it many times over the past year. Who is going to be the voice and make Amador County aware of what the leadership of the Amador Fire Protection District is doing to its volunteer firefighters? Poor treatment of AFPD’s Volunteer Firefighters has become a disease that has been growing rampant for some time, relations are dismal, and there is a clear desire to push AFPD’s Volunteer Firefighters out and create a paid staff only department.”

It’s the kind of “Deep Throat” journalism that you’ve seen in movies. An email exchange from an unnamed source, wild claims of hostile work environments, abuse of power, and a shift to push out the volunteers and get to a fully paid AFPD. No named source, just accusations and direction to dig and to “shine a light on the growing mistreatment of AFPD Volunteer Firefighters,” and claims of mistreatment and disservice to paid AFPD personnel.

Like so many, we know little of the business and the politics behind the scenes of operating, running and executing our fire safety. We simply stand in awe when the calls go out and our heroes show up to put out the fire, to answer a medical call, to handle accidents and keep us safe. We don’t know who is a volunteer, who’s paid – we just want our safety. And, to their credit, it has been unselfishly provided. Quietly. Selflessly. Consistently.

Coming off the cryptic emails and reaching out and investigating the wild claims about AFPD, more than a dozen sources came forward to corroborate, substantiate and define an ongoing battle as, according to all sources, Volunteer Firefighters are being quietly and systematically wiped out. Without fail, every one of those sources also asked for anonymity as they feared retribution. This perhaps due to the handling of Battalion Chief Antonio Moreno from AFPD’s Battalion 20 centered in Plymouth.

How many of us knew that former Battalion Chief Moreno was handed walking papers at an emergency incident and told his services – 37 years of volunteer service – were no longer required? Most of Plymouth viewed Moreno as the Fire Chief. They may have thought he was a paid firefighter with AFPD. They may have known he was a volunteer. What I venture to guess is that no one knew, or expected, that after decades of volunteer service he’d be shown the door. 

No reason. No thanks. No farewell.

Members of the Battalion 20 Firefighters Association (AFPD’s Plymouth-area volunteers) didn’t receive word that Moreno’s position had been removed. Only a few of the paid AFPD personnel reached out after word of mouth reached them. Not a letter or note from the AFPD Board. Simply, a note to a Battalion Chief that his volunteer time was up.

The latest firing of Moreno and a few phone calls, suddenly a dozen sources were ready to talk about what really is going on with AFPD. Some by email, some by phone, some in-person interviews. They began to share what they have seen and are seeing behind closed doors.

Here’s some of what they shared:

“Today AFPD paid staff leadership fired Volunteer Battalion Chief Moreno. The very one that spoke out at the Board Meeting. Volunteers are not surprised as they knew this was the risk of speaking out, but they are all greatly disheartened. They had hoped the Board would listen and see the great problems that are brewing at AFPD and that perhaps positive change would begin. Instead, following the meeting things took a turn for the worse and a lot of unethical and unprofessional things began to happen. Secret meetings have been held, outward threats have been made. Relationships between paid staff and volunteer staff have crumbled.”

“It’s a money grab. If they get rid of the volunteers, make it look like they do not or cannot sustain safety with an unpaid volunteer staff, the county will be forced into fully paid firefighter services. Think about it, you’ve already seen turf wars – an attempt to change the Emergency Response dispatch maps. You’ve seen the addition of First Responder Fees. I’m told raising regular fire fees for the people of Amador County, as much as double or triple, have been discussed. Even adding additional fees to the process, including possible overlapping inspection fees. It’s big money. The goal of AFPD is to have one big powerful fire department and to do that they need to grab money from all the resources possible – even if it’s at the expense of good firefighters and at the expense of Amador County residents, who have no idea what’s taking place behind the scenes.”

“As a county, we must at this point question the integrity of not only AFPD leadership, but the AFPD Board as well as the Amador County Board of Supervisors serving as AFPD’s Fire Board. Questionable financial decisions within the department, consulting duties and consulting fees – none of it is ever looked into. None of it addressed.”

“AFPD Volunteers have endured bad behavior, purposeful lack of communication and misinformation by AFPD leadership. It is clear they will create a hostile work environment and do everything in their power to push volunteers out of AFPD to create a Paid Staff-only Department. The drive to make that happen is why there is no effort from AFPD to have good relations with city fire departments.”

“AFPD has a history of honor and great service to its community. I know the majority of AFPD is interested in serving the people of Amador County and they have hearts in service, but a few in leadership positions, perhaps at the direction of the AFPD Board, have become a blight to the department and perhaps even a danger to our citizens. If money and power are a motivating factor behind service to one’s community, it’s a sad day indeed. And a dangerous one.”

“We’re all for improvement and becoming the best we can be to protect Amador County and its citizenry. We’ve got a track record of success, with some multi-generational volunteers. Change is not always good. Explain to me how a 37-year volunteer, Battalion Chief Antonio Moreno of AFPD’s Battalion 20, can be sent packing without any notice, without any bad marks, without having done anything wrong?”

“What a shame this is to our county. Watch closely, AFPD will run off all the volunteers. It’s as clear as sending a beloved Chief, a volunteer of 37 years, home for good for no reason.”

“When an administration and its board allows self-serving intentions to override those of the firefighters they lead and the people and the communities they serve, a full investigation needs to take place. There should be accountability to the people.”

Keep in mind, when Measure M was presented to the Ledger Dispatch for endorsement, we were promised that firefighting was going to be unified. It was sold to us, and other businesses and organizations, as a way to unify firefighting services, providing economies of scale and other benefits that made sense. That information presented was either misinformation or a lie. Shortly after Measure M passed, we were told unification was not going to occur. Many that endorsed Measure M were lied to or given false information, including the Ledger Dispatch.

The training and discipline that volunteers go through to earn certifications and titles is the same as any paid firefighter. There is no such thing as a volunteer certification. Additionally, if you think AFPD Volunteers are untrained or lacking in actual time spent responding to fires, traffic accidents and medical calls in our county – think again. The amount of training current AFPD Volunteers have, how much time they spend training, and the time responding to calls is staggering. 

In fact, it’s shocking.

These volunteers and the time they put in – well, it makes it very clear just how much the community means to them.

There are many, many questions. A group of volunteers, families, friends and even some paid staff are outraged, saddened, even depressed over what is occurring.

We would encourage our family of readers and concerned citizens to attend the next Fire Board meeting and express their opinions. This can be in person or via Zoom. The date and Zoom link will be posted on amadorfire.org. We’d also encourage you to reach out and email the Amador County Board of Supervisors, that also happen to be the members of the Fire Board.

As we question the conspiracy theorists, the sources that have come forward, and the information provided in PowerPoint presentations, meeting notes, documents, interviews and more, we are reminded that where there is smoke, there is fire. 

Hopefully, this one gets contained before we all get burned.

Jack Mitchell is the Publisher of the Ledger Dispatch.