NINILCHIK, Alaska (KTUU) - Community members are organizing to have more say in the operations of the Ninilchik Emergency Services station.
A clear divide has formed in the Kenai Peninsula town following the terminations of two prominent emergency responders. On Sunday residents went as far as asking NES Board President Darrel Williams to step down.
Williams sent termination letters to NES Fire Chief David Bear and Assistant Chief Grace Huhndorf on Feb. 4. Several residents have corroborated that these letters included a notice that NES services would be suspended while the 501(c)(3) non-profit undergoes restructuring.
In the event of suspended services the people of Ninilchik would have to rely on contingent emergency services from Anchor Point. In an effort to avoid this outcome former Chief Bear, three other EMTs, and two ambulance drivers agreed to stay with NES for the time being.
On Sunday, Williams denied allegations of his intent to suspend services. He said his words were misinterpreted – that he could not force volunteer EMTs to continue providing emergency services without guaranteeing them a job once restructuring is complete.
"They have to have that opportunity to say yes or no. That was the conversation," Williams said. “I’m also part of this community. I would never do that.”
Both the NES Board of Directors and community members have acknowledged a need for improved communication to avoid future conflict. As such, residents have asked to be involved in the candidate selection to fill two vacancies on the NES board.
Williams said these decisions are historically made internally, as is their right according to statutes governing the functions of non-profit businesses.
But he said he is open to the idea of public input in the selection process.
“Yes, if they came forward and had suggestions or information, this is something we can certainly talk about,” Williams said.
A small group of residents has formed a committee to work with the NES board on behalf of the community. Their first meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Feb. 10 at the Ninilchik Community Center.
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