Shiprock Chapter opposes fire station takeover

Noel Lyn Smith
San Juan County Fire Chief Chief Craig Daugherty addresses members of the San Juan County Commission in Aztec earlier this month about fire stations the county can no longer afford to operate.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation's Shiprock Chapter has submitted a resolution to the tribal president stating its opposition to the tribe’s plan to take over a fire station in its community currently operated by San Juan County.

On Sunday, 40 chapter members voted in support of the resolution that objects to the transfer of the fire station to the tribe.

The county has been operating the fire stations in Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo since the 1990s but can no longer afford to continue that service due to declining revenue and funding.

Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie said on Wednesday the chapter supports paying $810,500 a year to the county for operational and equipment costs so it can continue operating the stations.

That and transferring responsibility to the tribe were among the options proposed by county officials last December.

On Oct. 7, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told county commissioners the tribe would take over operation of the three stations.Despite the tribe's plans, the Shiprock Chapter resolution requests that tribal officials make arrangements for the county to continue operating the station.

It also lists three reasons why the chapter membership opposes the takeover.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye describes how the tribe will take over three fire stations during a San Juan County Commission meeting in Aztec earlier this month.

The resolution claims the tribe did not consult the chapter when the proposal was under discussion so the chapter had no input. The chapter is concerned the tribe did not budget “sufficient funds” to operate the station. And it says it would have been sensible for the tribe to develop a comprehensive transfer plan that would be implemented over an extended period of time.

“We didn’t get any official notice from the Navajo Nation or the county,” Yazzie said.

In addition to the resolution, the chapter reiterated its concerns in a letter to Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, tribal Attorney General Ethel Branch and Navajo Nation Fire Chief Larry Chee.

“It is necessary that the Navajo Nation re-evaluate the proposed transfer and engage in dialogue with the Shiprock Chapter and other concerned communities to collectively determine the best option in these regards,” the letter states.

An official with the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President had not responded to emailed questions asking for a response to the Shiprock resolution and for details of the Nation's plans to take over the fire stations as of late Wednesday.

Yazzie added that some comments from Sunday’s meeting centered on concerns about firefighter training and certification.

San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daugherty said there are 32 volunteers with the station in Shiprock and on average they respond to 1,200 calls each year.

The station, which is known as District 12 under the department listing, services a 982-square-mile area.

Volunteers respond to fire and emergency calls in an area that spans from Shiprock to the Colorado-New Mexico state line as well as Newcomb and Teec Nos Pos and Cove, Ariz.

Daugherty said the county continues to communicate with the tribe about the transition, which is scheduled for spring.

The transition is not simple and the county is making sure the tribe is ready to handle operations before passing the baton, he said.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to this process,” Daugherty said.

In the meantime, the county continues to operate the three stations.

“We’re still continuing to provide services,” he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.