Jeff Willis

Big Bear Fire Chief Jeff Willis

During public comment at the June 2 Big Bear Fire Authority board meeting, a letter was read stating the firefighters have lost confidence in Big Bear Chief Jeff Willis’ ability to lead.

The letter was not signed, but Dawn Marschinke, board secretary, said the letter was from the Big Bear Professional Firefighters Association. The letter stated that the association members respectfully and begrudgingly issue of vote of no confidence for Willis.

The letter stated that Willis had misrepresented the wishes of the firefighters, did not replace equipment and prioritized administration over the ability to protect the community, among other issues. The group stated they did not support a contract renewal for Willis and called for his immediate removal as chief.

The letter also claimed that Big Bear Fire Authority chair John Green refused a meeting with the organization.

Green asked legal counsel to respond. Joseph Sanchez, attorney for the Fire Authority, said that the members of the Firefighters Association asked to attend the closed session meeting of the board that included a performance review for the chief. Sanchez said attendance outside the board and the chief is not legally allowed. It was his decision as legal counsel not to allow the members of the association to attend, Sanchez said.

The association was told to write a letter to be read at the open meeting, which was held via Zoom due to COVID-19 limitations.

The board entered into closed session following the regular meeting open session. Results of any action at that meeting are not yet available.

At the regular meeting, the board approved the 2020-21 budget. The budget is balanced for the first time in several years, but comes at the cost of reduction in personnel. The Fire Department will be reducing daily staffing from 13 to nine, and implementing ambulance operator positions. The ambulance operators are nonsafety positions, basically drivers, who cannot fight fire nor assist with technical rescues.

Also at the meeting, the board agreed to send to the administrative committee discussion on whether to develop a request for proposal for an outside agency to bid on taking on operation of the Fire Department. Board member Randy Putz asked that the committee consider not only an RFP for the consolidated department but also the two individual departments — Big Bear Lake Fire Protection District and Big Bear City Fire Department — as they were prior to the consolidation into the Big Bear Fire Authority.

No date has been set for the meeting, but meetings will be noticed and open to the public. If necessary, the meeting will be held via Zoom or telephonically so the public can attend and participate, including members of the firefighters association.

As more information becomes available on this story, it will be updated.

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