Jeremy Gaston/Herald-Chronicle

Wayne White | Managing Editor

OVERBROOK—Squabbling within Osage County Fire District No. 4 Overbrook/Mission Valley has impacted the fire department, but fire protection services are still being provided, district board members said Monday.

During discussion at Monday’s district board meeting, fire chief Spence Martin said the number of volunteer fire fighters has been reduced from about 30 to 13 in the last couple of months due to the disputes.

“We’ve lost fire fighters over this bickering,” agreed board member Randy Flory.

It was noted during the meeting the board is working to alleviate some of the concerns, as fire department member and Michigan Valley area resident Mary Pruitt questioned the board about a variety of issues.

Pruitt’s husband is Osage County Commissioner Mike Pruitt and former co-fire chief of the fire district. Mike Pruitt announced during a county commission meeting several weeks ago that he had resigned as fire chief of the district. At that time, he questioned county counselor Delton Gilliland on procedures for starting a new fire district.

Monday, Mary Pruitt asked the board questions about the district’s budget and whether funds are being spent for statutorily mandated expenditures, pointing to over $110,000 being held in the district’s equipment fund. Money, she said, that should be spent on equipment to provide better services, especially in the southern part of the county in the Michigan Valley area.

“The new building in Michigan Valley can accommodate two large trucks and two small trucks,” Pruitt said. “Why is there not adequate fire or medical support vehicles in this building?”

She said Michigan Valley needed a medical unit and a working pumper truck in addition to other equipment.

The board addressed two of Pruitt’s concerns during the meeting, first voting to establish a committee to search for a medical unit.

“We need something there, but not a full-fledged ambulance,” said board member Max Friesen, “a minimum med unit, but not a new one.”

The board appointed board members David Hesseltine, John Woodbury, Buddy Rogers, fire department member Mary Neill, and chief Martin to the committee.

Questioned about the pumper truck at Michigan Valley, board members said they believed it to be in good working condition except for the pump, which was to be replaced this weekend with a recently purchased pump.

“We have what I was told was adequate,” said Woodbury.

Pruitt noted that Michigan Valley did not have a tanker truck.

“When they get there, they’ve got to bring a tanker with them,” Pruitt said. “Right now, I don’t think you can put my house out if it’s on fire.”

“If you’ve got a tanker out of [Overbrook], you’ve got a thousand gallons of water and you’ve got a system,” Woodbury said.

“Sounds to me like some people down at Michigan Valley want a new fire truck,” Flory said.

“As a taxpayer,” Pruitt said, “I’d like for (fire protection services) to be just as good as tax dollars will get us.”

Woodbury said it was necessary for the district to keep some funds in reserve for unexpected purchases of equipment.

Pruitt also questioned why volunteers were not paid a stipend for fire runs. She said state statutes allowed funds not included in a fire district’s general fund to be used for equipment and allowances for fire fighters on calls.

“Let’s treat them nice and at least pay for their gas,” she said.

The board took no action on paying fire fighters.

During other discussion of ongoing disputes within the fire department, the board was questioned by fire fighter Barbara Galyean regarding possession of firearms and tobacco in the fire station.

A spectator noted that members of the fire department that were law enforcement officers, such as Overbrook Police Chief Ed Harmison who was present at the meeting and armed, were required to have guns as part of their uniform. Any officer responding to a fire call in uniform would likely be carrying a gun, the spectator said.

Galyean indicated she was satisfied with the man’s answer.

Although the board did not address the question of tobacco use, Martin said such issues needed to be resolved soon.

“It’s not about ourselves,” Martin said, “it’s about this community. We’ve got to work together for this community.”

During discussion about the resignation of Mike Pruitt and resignations of fire fighters, board members noted the department now lacked fire department officers.

“Spence, you’re the chief. Get yourself some officers,” Flory said, suggesting Martin appoint fire fighters to fill the vacant officer positions.

Flory also noted that Mike Pruitt had not submitted a resignation and had not turned in department equipment.

“Officially he hasn’t resigned until he presents something to the board and turns in his stuff,” Flory said.

Friesen said later that none of the fire fighters had submitted official resignations to the board.

In other business, the board:

• agreed to seek bids for a new heater at the Michigan Valley fire building.

• appointed Neill to investigate the feasibility of establishing medical responder training courses for high school age students, with costs to be paid by the district.

• agreed to seek bids for roof repair at the Overbrook station.

• voted on a motion to retain all board officers in their current positions.