TEXARKANA, Ark. — Larry Pritchett, Miller County's director of the Office of Emergency Management, stepped down from his role as fire administrator on Aug. 6.
He was appointed to the position in January by Miller County Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison and said he had no comment on his resignation until after the Miller County Quorum Court meeting Monday, when the justices will consider the new Volunteer Fire Department Handbook. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., with the Budget and Finance Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. and the Volunteer Fire Department Committee meeting at 6:45 p.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Miller County Courthouse.
The VFD Committee approved the new guidelines on July 30, with Justice Andy LaGrone voting against the handbook.
Pritchett said all nine stations voted against the new structure during an Aug. 1 meeting. George Goynes, chairpman of the Miller County Rural Fire Association, said eight stations voted against the handbook, as one department did not attend the meeting.
He said the stations voted against the guidelines because they disagree with having an administrative chief over the other department chiefs.
"Now that he's stepped down, it won't be him but will be somebody else over all the chiefs," Goynes said. "We don't have a problem with an administrator, but we have a problem with an administrative chief. We don't have a problem working with someone, but we don't want to be under their direction. As long as I know the fire department has been in existence, we've been able to govern ourselves. We conduct our own business and if there is any problem, the county judge tells us what the problem is and we fix it. We don't need someone to come in to tell us how to operate."
Judge Harrison said she will not remove the position of administrative chief from the handbook.
"They will have no one looking over them directly if there is no administrative chief," she said. "Being accountable is having your paperwork watched. I'm not willing to take that out."
The new guidelines and procedures are modeled after those in Conway County, Arkansas, and have been controversial since Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison brought them before the Volunteer Fire Department Committee in the spring. She said the changes needed to be made because the current model, which was prepared by the firefighters themselves, was not working and that the stations, chiefs and firefighters should be held accountable for their duties, including inventory and paperwork.
The new handbook puts in place emergency services districts and an administrative fire board comprised of nonfirefighters to oversee the volunteer fire departments. Two members would be nominated by the Miller County Quorum Court, two by the departments and one by the judge.
He said the association also has an issue with the fact that the two people they nominate cannot be firefighters.
"We really don't have a problem with an administrative board, except for the fact they won't let us have firefighters on the board," he said. "In Conway, they have two firefighters on their board, but we we were told we couldn't have any representation at all. They expect us to go out and do all the work but have no say so."
If the handbook is approved during the meeting, the court would then vote on an ordinance to appoint the VFD Board.