CLEARWATER - Fire Chief Jamie Geer has been here only three weeks, but that was enough time for him to determine that the Department's two top administrators had to go. Geer solicited and received the resignations of Deputy Chief of Operations Mark Weinreich, and Deputy Chief of Administration Terry Welker on Thursday, September 16.
"They don't have compatible leadership styles and techniques, and a change was necessary", Geer said, explaining the reason for the dismissals. He said that his actions were the result of his assessment of the management team, and not a reaction to morale issues among the department's firefighters and paramedics who have been working without a contract for two years.
Geer's housecleaning didn't stop with Weinreich and Welker; Guy C. Wine, the Assistant Chief of Prevention, resigned under similar circumstances on Friday, September 18. Geer again cited incompatible leadership style as the cause for termination.
Geer declined to elaborate on what he found incompatible in Weinreich and Welker, but provided a glimpse of his own leadership style in his resume'. He lists strong incident command and a take control presence on the fire ground as an example. "Firefighters and medics want a leader on the fire ground that is competent, confident, and has their safety as a priority", Geer wrote. His style is welcomed by Clearwater's firefighters, several of whom were injured while fighting the Dolphin Cove fire; they had been critical of department leadership during that incident.
Geer described his leadership style off the fire ground as "available, approachable and knowledge sharing." This is in direct contrast to the former regime, which had installed a keypad lock on the entrance door to the Fire Administration Office and withheld the combination from members of the department. According to David Hogan, Secretary/Treasurer of I.A.F.F. Local 1158, one of Geer's first acts as Chief of Clearwater Fire and Rescue was the removal of the lock that both literally and figuratively separated firefighters and paramedics from their management.
Hogan expressed the reaction of the Fire Fighters Union members to Geer's actions and style; "We're enthusiastically optimistic about the future of the Clearwater Fire Department", he said. Chief Geer visited the Union Hall on Friday as the Union hosted a fund-raising barbeque to benefit the Children's Burn Camp and MDA; not only had Geer unlocked the Fire Administration door, but he visited with union members in their own building and supported their charitable efforts. "There's been a huge increase in morale", Hogan said.
But the growing department morale wasn't enough to earn Union approval of the City's latest contract proposal; the offer of a one-time $1,000 bonus to settle the 2002/03 contract year was soundly defeated 151-3 during last week's ratification vote. "The City will have to come back with something better next time", Hogan said.
Hogis not expecting that Geer will be able to craft a quick solution to the on-going labor dispute; "He's walking into a negotiation that's been going on for 2 1/2 years", Hogan said, adding "There's only one person who can straighten this out, and that's City Manager Bill Horne."
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