Tribe will take over three fire stations Oct. 4

San Juan County commissioners unanimously approved waiting until the end of the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock before transferring three fire stations to the tribe

Hannah Grover
Firefighters Derrick Woody and Leigh Ann Nez respond to an emergency call on Oct. 22 at the San Juan County District No. 12 fire station in Shiprock.

AZTEC — The Navajo Nation will take over management of three fire stations currently operated by San Juan County on Oct. 4.

The tribe was initially scheduled to take over the stations on Oct. 1, but the San Juan County Commission today unanimously approved transferring the Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo fire stations to the Navajo Nation after the conclusion of the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.

"My thoughts are to give them the extra week because they need that extra protection," Commissioner Jack Fortner said during the meeting.

The Shiprock fair is one of the busiest times of the year for the Shiprock fire station. San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said firefighters at that station average three to five calls per hour during the fair. This year, the fair starts Sept. 29.

Arbin Mitchell, chief of staff for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, attended the commission meeting. He said the tribe wanted to wait until after the fair to make the transfer because part of the change will require re-routing emergency calls from San Juan County emergency dispatchers to Shiprock police. Making that switch after the fair would be safer, given the high call volume during the event, Mitchell said.

In previous years, the county has received extra payment from the fair board for additional staffing at the fair. But this year, the fair board does not plan to reimburse the fire department for any additional services.

Navajo Nation Fire Chief Larry Chee said the fair board provided his department additional funds to send extra personnel to help out during the fair.

From left, firefighters Leigh Ann Nez and Derrick Woody collect their gear Oct. 22 at the San Juan County District No. 12 fire station in Shiprock as they prepare to respond to an emergency.

Daugherty said the county may not be able to provide as much staffing at the fair as in previous years because he expected the transfer to take place before the fair.

"My challenge now is going to be finding volunteers who haven’t already planned something," he said.

The tribe announced its plans to take over the three fire stations in 2014 after the county sent a letter to tribal officials asking for money to help fund the stations.

The transfer was initially planned for April, but the deadline was extended. The Navajo Nation agreed to pay the county $67,000 a month until the transfer was completed.

Mitchell said the tribe has made all but two of those six payments. Daugherty said he has only seen proof of the tribe making three payments. A Navajo Nation Council special session on Wednesday will address a budget transfer to make the final payments.

The county does not plan to charge the tribe additional money for the extra days in October before the transfer.

“If it’s only four days, maybe we could continue to be good neighbors with the tribe,” Fortner said during the meeting.

Daugherty agreed with Fortner on the condition that the tribe pay the remainder of its payments.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.