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Donald firefighters' association dissolved

DONALD — The Donald Volunteer Firefighters Association has ceased to exist, but former members are not taking the loss of their organization lightly.

And the recent termination of two longtime Donald firefighters has just added fuel to the fire.

The board of directors of the Aurora Fire District, of which Donald is a part, voted last May to dissolve the organization, and as of Jan. 1, the association is no more.

Frank Stormo, who served as a firefighter in the district for 25 years, believes the association was done away with because volunteers in Donald spoke out about several issues. According to Stormo, rather than address those issues, the fire district’s board members simply voted to do away with the Donald organization.

Stormo said the move to dissolve the DVFA came after he brought several complaints to a May 2012 meeting of the fire district’s board.

“I was vice president of the Donald firefighters,” Stormo explained, “and I went in to the fire board with some concerns.”

“For one thing,” Stormo continued, “the assistant fire chief had always been from Donald, and he had just retired. I asked them to appoint a new assistant chief from Donald, and they didn’t want to do that. Also, I complained about never getting training. And we always had ‘Donald Station’ on our fire trucks, but the newer trucks only had ‘Aurora Fire District’ on them. So I suggested putting a small, magnetic ‘Donald Station’ sign on the sides of the trucks operating out of Donald.”

Stormo said it was later in that same meeting, after he had left, that the commissioners voted to do away with the DVFA, while maintaining the Aurora-based Aurora Fire District 63 Association.

The board voted 4 to 0 — one member was not present — to dissolve the Donald association.

“During the meeting, just like that, they voted to combine the two associations,” Stormo said. “The Donald Volunteer Firefighters Association was organized almost 50 years ago, but they voted us out of existence.”

“It was a knee-jerk reaction,” agreed Todd Deaton, who served for 19 years as a firefighter in Donald and is the former mayor. “They did not consult with any of the members before they decided to abolish us. It was totally wrong.”

Fred Netter, president of the five-member Aurora Fire District Board of Directors, disputed the pair’s claims.

“We have the authority to do that under statute,” said Netter. “To say this came about because of their complaints is wrong. They didn’t stick around or they would have been in on this. There was an open discussion. To say we made an impulse vote — that’s not a fair representation of what happened. There was plenty of time for discussion.”

Netter said there were logical reasons to combine the two organizations.

“First of all, there was an issue with communications,” Netter explained. “With two associations, we had issues of making sure everyone is on the same page and gets the same information. And even bigger than that, we have a few paid firefighters, but volunteer manpower runs most of the district. We are doing all kinds of things to see to it guys are not out any of their own money.”

Netter pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service has regulations fire districts need to follow to avoid running afoul of rules regarding “compensation.”

“We’ve been giving each of the associations a stipend to distribute however they wanted, and that became an issue. How do we keep it fair? The easiest way was to form one association,” Netter said. “It makes it a whole lot easier to deal with just one association. That’s where the board was coming from.”

But then, on Jan. 28, Stormo and Deaton were told they could no longer serve in the Aurora Fire District.

“The board gave us no reason for the terminations,” said Deaton.

Stormo has sent a certified letter to the fire district board, requesting an explanation.

Netter declined to comment on the terminations.

“It’s a personnel issue,” he said.

Stormo said many firefighters in Donald are upset with the board’s moves, and Netter conceded that the vote to dissolve the Donald association could have been handled more judiciously.

“We did not have prior notice that we would be changing two associations to one,” Netter said. “Looking back, it might have been better to have done that, but it’s done.”

Netter added that he understood the basis for the concerns from some of the Donald firefighters, but he thought those concerns were unfounded.

“Guys are afraid of the loss of their identity and of losing the station there. We’re not going to do that. Donald is not going to lose its station,” Netter said. “Unfortunately, there are some disgruntled people, and I wish everybody could understand what we think is the wisdom of what we’re doing. All we want to do is make things work better. If a Donald firefighter is in Aurora working on a fire scene, we want to make sure they are working under the same rules. And the same thing if an Aurora firefighter is working in Donald.”

Netter added that his main concern is for the fire district.

“I’ve been involved in the fire district for over 40 years, either as a firefighter or a board member,” he said. “My heart is in seeing the best possible service and least expensive possible service for people in this area. If some people want to paint me as a bad guy, so be it.”

With three fire commissioners coming up for re-election in May, Deaton said he hoped local voters would register their opinions about the Aurora board’s actions.

“I hope people will vote them out,” said Deaton. “I’ll probably run against one of them.”