On June 24, 2014, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted two resolutions aimed at addressing the ongoing need for enhanced fire protection for the people and places of Atoka. The resolutions set in motion the launch of a whole new Department – and a new mission for the Town of Atoka. On July 1, 2015, the Atoka Fire Department will stand up and take over fire protection duties within the corporate limits of Atoka.
There are a lot of questions about the future and we’ll try to answer them below. As we continue along in the process, we’ll add more questions and answers to help keep you informed of our progress.
A. After decades of contracted fire service, the Town has determined that a locally-managed, locally-controlled Fire Department to be in the best interests of Atoka going forward. We’ve worked for months to maintain a partnership with the City of Munford because we believe that to be the most cost-effective to provide for fire protection to residents of both communities.
We were informed in early June that Munford did not believe that the command structure being negotiated for the joint Fire Department adequately recognized their decades of leadership in the Department and that separate Fire Departments may be the best way forward. The Town could not, in good faith to our citizens, commit significantly more money to a partnership where we would be the major funding partner but would not be the managing partner. On June 24, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to terminate our contract for fire services with the City of Munford effective June 30, 2015.
Q. What is the immediate impact to fire protection in Atoka ?
A. Nothing will change in the immediate future. The staffing plan for the Walker Parkway fire station remains in place and fire protection services will continue to be provided under the existing contract for fire services. Rest assured, when you call for emergency fire or medical assistance, the partnership that has provided that protection for the past several decades will be there to answer the call.
In the next several weeks, the Town will begin the recruitment process for our first Fire Chief. While we’ve had great advisers thus far guiding our efforts, a dedicated, full-time employee is needed to take our efforts to that next level.
Q. Did the Town prepare for this change ?
A. In our initial feasibility review, the Town considered two paths forward. First was a combined Department under a new structural agreement. We’ve worked tirelessly to devise a framework that would serve the needs of both communities in an effort to maximize our cost-effectiveness. Unfortunately, that path is no longer an option. Along with our combined Department plan, we developed a plan for a stand-alone Department as well. To use an analogy from Atoka’s railroad past, we were building parallel tracks in our planning process – and we’ve been riding down the shared Department path. We’ll now switch and move forward on the stand-alone path.
Q. Will the Atoka Fire Department be able to provide the protection level we expect ?
A. Absolutely. Our planning all along was based on the premise that we can not split up a single under-staffed and under-funded Department into two under-staffed and under-funded Departments. We have to be better at the end of this process. Our budget planning and staffing plans have all been based on the idea that we have to have more firefighters on the job to protect our citizens and that we have to provide them with the tools they need to deliver outstanding protection to our community.
Q. So on July 1, are the two Departments done with eachother – never again to meet ?
A. Of course not. In two communities that are as closely tied together as ours, there is absolutely a need to cooperate and coordinate. Our Police and Public Works Departments do that today – and our Fire Departments will tomorrow. Joint training, equipment sharing, mutual automatic aid and more will all be a part of working together in the future.
Q. What’s the next step ? Where do we go from here ?
A. The Town has approved a job description for a Fire Chief position and that recruitment process is now being developed. Once a Chief is on board, we’ll begin working through our Department structure, equipment needs, recruitment plan and more as we work towards a July 1, 2015 starting date. The hard work is just beginning – but it’s important work and we look forward to putting together a solid staff team that will build an operation worthy of being called the Atoka Fire Department.