Nochta named interim Bland fire chief; Davis submitted resignation Dec. 11 after closed meeting with district’s directors

Roxie Murphy

Bland Fire Protection District is expected to name a new fire chief Jan. 8 since its former chief, Mark Davis, stepped down at the Dec. 11 meeting.

Davis’ resignation was given in closed session. He said he felt different personnel may be able to get the department where it needed to be.

“I was not moving in a certain direction that I thought the fire department needed to move,” Davis said. “I felt it would be better for the community.”

Davis said he thought there were some better ideas out there than he had, and needed to step aside so the department could move forward. He confirmed the shortage of volunteers played a role in his resignation. Following the session, Deputy Fire Chief Doug Nochta was informed he would be serving as interim fire chief.

“I thought it might have been an issue with some of the people,” Davis said. “That was part of the hindrance; people were saying things, they didn’t know the whole facts.”

Many communities are experiencing a shortage in volunteer fire service. Davis said the problem is nation wide right now.

“You go to different blogs, you will see,” he said. “It is a volunteer service, and it is a burden for tax payers for on-call fire service.”

He said volunteers are giving time and tax payers are paying for the equipment and building.

“If it comes down to not being able to get volunteers, communities may have to give up the service and go to a county wide paid service.”

Davis thinks culture is changing, and citizens expect more out of the volunteer firemen.

“I have dealt with paid and volunteer servicemen, and people are people. It is hard to get anyone to do something for free,” Davis said.

When asked for comment about what direction the fire board would like to see the department go, Bland Fire Protection District board member Bill Buddemeyer said the chief would have to answer that question, as he was not specifically involved in the day-to-day operations of the fire department. When asked about the transition in command, he said the board was not ready to comment.

“We decided we didn’t want to make that public until the next board meeting,” Buddemeyer said. “The acting fire chief is not officially voted in by the board. We need to have the board meeting.”

Buddemeyer said no other command changes were being made to his knowledge.

Davis said he would continue on as a volunteer fireman for Bland, despite no longer being chief.

“The department is always looking for good people,” Davis said. “That is why we went to the automatic mutual aid request, to Owensville and Belle, about responding for us and vice-versa. It is just neighbors helping neighbors.”

Davis said he would like to compliment the board and Nochta for trying to get a better service for the fire department.

“I support them and have no problems with them,” Davis said.

Nochta agreed with Davis in regards to their shared concerns on volunteer manpower.

“It’s that way nationwide,” said Nochta. “Volunteer departments are struggling to find volunteers and get people involved.”

Nochta said their district went to the “automatic aid” system earlier this year for toning out neighboring volunteer departments to assist on structure fires and incidents such as motor-vehicle crashes with injuries.

“Owensville and Belle are automatically dispatched on our calls,” said Nochta.  “It’s already an issue nationwide. We just rely on each other. There’s a lot of agency-to-agency assistance. I just think it’s nationwide at this time.”

Since being appointed as interim chief, Nochta said he’s been speaking with fellow chiefs and knows he’s not alone.

“We’re still keeping in touch with the all the other districts and departments,” said Nochta. “In smaller districts you can’t really go paid, you have to rely on volunteers.”

(With reporting by Dave Marner of The Gasconade County Republican’s staff).