Two candidates – former firefighter and Grain Valley Alderman Dale Arnold and the former longtime fire chief Steve Westermann – are vying for the open spot on the board of directors of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District.
The district covers most of Blue Springs as well as Grain Valley and Lake Tapawingo, as well as some surrounding unincorporated areas.
Voters go to the polls Tuesday and are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The candidates’ responses to The Examiner:
Please list all of your experience as it pertains to this position.
Steve Westermann: I have 45 years in the fire service, beginning as a volunteer at CJC when I was in high school. I also have 29 years as chief of CJC and guided it from a mostly volunteer department to the department it is today. I have been in leadership positions since high school whether in my church, our community or the fire service, where I have led organizations at the local, state, regional and national levels.
Dale Arnold: I have over 40 years’ experience in the fire service in leadership roles and 10 years as an elected official, making decisions for the long-term growth in our community. I’m involved with managing the continued growth of our communities as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board. I have served in the community with numerous local organizations as well as extensively at the state level (Fire Fighters Association of Missouri) and federal level (National Volunteer Fire Council and National Association States Summits), and with this involvement, gaining a wealth of information to aid me in my decisions.
What are the reasons you decided to run for the board?
SW: I have a deep passion for the fire service and especially CJC, having invested a large amount of time with the organization. Now that I have retired, I simply want to give back to the district and serve the community. CJC is a very stable organization with excellent service levels and has great leadership from Chief Grote. I would like to be able to support the initiatives that this administration brings to further this great organization.
DA: I recently retired as a firefighter with disability for job-related injuries. It was earlier than I planned, and I felt I still had more to contribute to the organization. With one of the board members retiring, I saw it as an opportunity to continue to serve. Commitment to serve has been a long passion of mine. For past service I have been recognized as a Pillar of the Community in 2005 and as Citizen of the Year by the Truman Heartland Community Foundation in 2011. My service was not driven for such honors, but I continue to serve to be worthy of the honor.
What do you think are the top issues that CJC faces, and how do you plan to resolve those?
SW: One of the main issues is the growth of northern Grain Valley. With that growth a new station will be needed to keep the current service levels that the citizens have asked for. With growth come increased responses, so it will be necessary to maintain those levels to continue the district's accreditation status. A new station will require a bond issue to build a station and some level of levy increase for staffing.
DA: Community growth and expanded need for new and creative ways to meet these needs. Federal and state governments continually add areas of concern, such as homeland defense, to what is expected as part of what we respond to as emergencies. With these added responsibilities and the need to expand our service to serve our larger communities and growing population, the challenges will be constant and changing. I will look for alternative funding sources to help with these growing costs.
Why do you think you would be a better candidate for this position?
SW: Being chief for 29 years, I worked under 14 different directors, so I have a very clear understanding of the differences in roles and responsibilities of a director and the lines between the chief and a director. Because of my tenure, I have a large breadth of historical knowledge that can be important when making decisions as a board member and helps in supporting the chief and the direction of the organization. I also bring to the table the fire service leadership experience from regional, state, and national organizations along with the contacts and new programs of those organizations.
DA: With my experience as a boots-on-the-ground firefighter, I have a different perspective of the past and for the future. My time as an alderman has helped me understand many on the challenges and the need for long-range planning and to be flexible with that planning. I don't come in with a past of being the one that has made all of those decisions and with that would have no issue with changing from what was done in the past.
One such choice is the accreditation. This is held as a very prestigious honor and does bring to light something we have known for some time – we have great people doing an outstanding job. There are a limited number of departments that have this honor. There are a couple reasons for this: It is an expensive process to undertake, with fees, and second, it requires a huge amount of man-hours committed to complete the process, all for a title of Accredited Fire Department.
In the end it has no real benefit for the taxpayer of the district. It doesn't affect your insurance premiums, like the insurance rating service known as ISO. But it does provide a funding revenue source for the organization that conducts the program (International Fire Chiefs Association), which my opponent served as president during the process of achieving this rating. With fees, man-hours committed and other costs for site visits, I estimate the cost of this at well over $200,000. All to confirm we have one of the best organizations and services available. I feel these funds would have had a more significant impact if spent in our community for resources to serve the citizens.