New fire chief announced
Wed, 12/21/2022 - 3:36pm admin
Firemen, Interim Chief, and Deputy Chief resign
A city council vote kicked off a week of upheaval and change in the Mountain View Fire Department. Returning to open session at 11:57 p.m. last Tuesday, Alderman Punkie Stevenson made a motion to hire Jason Taber as fire chief. Alderwoman Laura Wagner seconded it, and the ensuing vote was unanimous for Taber.
Two MVFD firefighters and a first responder present at the meeting resigned that night in the city council chambers, apparently in protest that Taber had been chosen instead of acting Interim Fire Chief Lee Busby.
Mayor John Krasuski confirmed the choice was, in fact, between Busby or Taber. According to the mayor, he made every attempt to involve the members of the MVFD in the six-week hiring process, though the decision ultimately came down to a council vote. The tipping point in Taber’s favor was Busby’s promise that he would stay on as assistant chief if the city hired Taber.
“In my view, Lee’s integrity showed me that if I had to break the tie [by casting the mayor’s vote], I would have gone ahead with Jason because of the hardship it would present to Lee and his family,” Krasuski said. In Mountain View, the mayor only votes if the aldermen tie their vote.
In an interview, Busby confirmed to Howell County News the city’s offered salary would have been a significant reduction in his income.
“But I would have done it. For Mountain View,” Busby said.
“I talked with ten firefighters, and we had a split in support,” said Mayor Krasuski in a Dec. 16 interview. “The fifty percent who were for Jason [Taber] said ‘I will work with either one.’ The fifty percent for Lee, said ‘If you don’t pick Lee, we’re quitting.’ I reported those findings to the council. There were three present in open session who made good on their threats…They came to the meeting with their gear in bags and came up and dropped them on the floor.”
“I trained these people,” Busby told the News. “Mountain View lost its fire attack team.”
Four members of the department resigned Wednesday. Deputy Interim Chief Michael Pauly resigned Thursday.
“On Tuesday night, Police Chief Jamie Perkins contacted our dispatch and asked for another agency to be toned with Mountain View Fire. Our dispatcher asked if this was until further notice and was told just overnight, that they would get with Lee Busby in the morning and figure out what they were going to do,” said Robbie Crites, Howell County 911 Administrator. Crites mentioned that MVFD was called for medical emergency at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, and “they quickly responded.”
Two tragic losses
“I went to bed [Tuesday night] not worrying about it, and we had the surrounding communities ready to respond and help. I wanted to make sure we were on emergency status, but we still had at least five firefighters and interim chief,” Mayor Krasuski said.
The Mountain View Fire Chief position was open because the city parted ways with former Chief Stanley Murphy in October. Former Chief Murphy suffered a stroke last week, and according to Busby, on Wednesday, he was at his longtime friend and colleague’s deathbed.
Stanley Murphy passed away Thursday night.
When a first responder call came in for a stillborn baby at 1:09 a.m. Thursday morning, 911 toned MVFD twice without getting a response. They tried calling Busby on his cell phone but could not reach him.
Busby said he slept through the tone, and his phone did not ring.
“This is a manmade device,” he said, holding up his phone. “It is not 100% reliable.”
Nevertheless, that night, the night it became clear the former chief and his good friend was going to die, was not the night for him to be running calls, he said.
“There was a love between Stan and I for years,” Busby shared, tears standing in his eyes. “I don’t know how many people could be of a mind [to work a fire call] if one of their best friends was on their deathbed.”
Mercy EMS was on scene, and eventually cancelled a call for assistance from Eleven Point Rural Fire at 1:37 a.m. The baby, at 35 weeks’ gestation, could not be revived.
“God would have had to have been there,” Busby said.
“All [first responders] could have done is CPR,” commented former Deputy Interim Chief Michael Pauly. Like Busby, Pauly was still on the department when the call came in, but he was at work as a Howell County Sheriff’s Deputy.
“Mountain View is a volunteer department,” Pauly said. “Nobody is staffed there 24 hours a day. You can’t hold people accountable…It’s volunteer. I wish they had a full-time department.”
Pauly resigned from Mountain View Fire Thursday afternoon.
Backlash about the missed call in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 was harsh and immediate. In his interview with the News, Busby referred to backlash as one of the reasons he resigned.
Busby resigned as Assistant Chief at 3:11 p.m. Dec. 15.
“I was gonna try to stay on to help, but after all this, I resigned at 3:11 yesterday,” he said.
Busby also cited a breakdown in communication from City Hall as a reason for his resignation. He played in the news office a voicemail from the mayor timestamped 3:39 p.m. Dec. 15 in which the mayor informed him, seemingly for the first time, that the city council had voted to hire Taber. This was 39 hours and almost two full business days since the vote Tuesday night.
“Why didn’t they have the dignity to let me know Wednesday morning?” Busby questioned.
In response to a question about the timeline of the unanswered Thursday morning call, Mayor Krasuski said, “I’m still trying to find out. The assistant chief will not return my calls. I don’t know why. I really thought he was a stand-up guy.”
“There were rumors, and I was afraid [City Hall] would hang me out to dry,” Busby said. “You have to go back to where they fired Stan. That’s where things got complicated. I took the interim to hold the department together…I have loved being there. I went down and met Jason last night. I said I hoped everything worked for him. I was going to stay on to help, but after all this, I just needed to get out. It has been a joy. I’ve loved the fire service.”
Future of the Department
According to Mayor Krasuski, Jason Taber assumed the duties of fire chief in the afternoon of Dec. 15.
“It was going to be Jan. 1 because Lee was still running things, but I decided to ask him to start earlier,” he said.
There are at thirteen firefighters remaining on the department, Chief Taber confirmed, and area departments have been notified that the Mountain View district may require their assistance.
“This morning at 10:30 a.m., I received an official phone call from City Hall to step up and fill in,” confirmed on Friday morning Fire Chief Frank Vanhorn of the neighboring Eleven Point Rural Fire Department district. “We do have automatic aid agreements in place for house fires. If they have a fire, we’re going automatically. We told them we are willing and able to respond to first responder-type calls too.”
"The surrounding area chiefs have been great. They have reached out and offered to help," said Chief Taber.
Chief Taber reports MVFD has received four calls for service since he took the helm Thursday afternoon. The department has responded to each one.
"I’d like to assure everybody that we’re here, small in number but strong as ever," Chief Taber said Monday morning. "I was very proud. We are fewer in numbers, but they are the interested in showing up and helping their community and interested in training."