The White Hall City Council was faced with finding a new fire chief on Monday and then they weren’t after controversy arose over a new fire protection policy. The White Hall Fire Protection District, which is a separate entity from the city, convened a special meeting to discuss a recent policy they adopted regarding the response of personnel to fires and EMS calls outside the city’s limits.
This policy, adopted by the district at the August 14th meeting, resulted in Fire Chief Garry Sheppard submitting his resignation and many of the city’s volunteer firefighters threatening to quit. Sheppard has been on the city’s fire department for 40 years, with much of that time being spent as fire chief. The policy aimed to secure more funding for the fire protection district, which lost much of its funding when the villages of Patterson, Hillview, and Walkerville voted down a referendum to be a part of the district last year.
The policy states that when answering a fire call to a non-contract location, they would respond with no more than five firefighters and would only send a tanker engine designated to respond to rural fires. There were however many exceptions that caused confusion among local residents and EMS and fire personnel. Due to the referendum not passing in 2018, the city offered contracts to rural residents of the county to receive full response from fire and EMS in cases of emergency at homes. Concerns from the White Hall Mayor and police chief, who also happen to be a part of the EMS personnel of the city were a part of the dissent against the policy, saying it placed too many people in harm’s way.
Greene County Sherriff Rob McMillen who is the former chief of police of the city of White Hall sits on the fire protection board. McMillen said he drafted most of the policy with input from Fire Chief Garry Sheppard and a committee of firemen. McMillen said the goals of the smaller crews and lessened response was to have enough equipment to handle calls that do come into the contracted area. 65 contracts have been collected in the rural portions of the county to be included in the district, according to the Greene Prairie Press.
McMillen viewed Sheppard’s resignation as a form of intimidation to rescind the policy. Following a closed session meeting with Sheppard after the lengthy discussion Monday night, Sheppard agreed to stay on as chief. The Fire Protection Board compromised on the policy and saying it would re-write it before another vote in September.