County will discuss transferring fire stations

Navajo Nation expected to take over management of Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo fire stations next month

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com
Firefighting gear hangs from hooks on Oct. 22 at the San Juan County District 12 Fire Station in Shiprock.
  • The tribe was expected to take over the stations in April but got an extension on that deadline and paid the county about $67,500 a month to operate the stations until the transfer could take place.
  • San Juan County has operated the three stations since the 1990s but asked the tribe for help with operating costs in December 2014.
  • The county is working with the tribe to develop a mutual aid agreement so county firefighters can help Navajo Nation firefighters.
  • Next week, the Navajo Nation Council will consider a bill that would provide funding for the three fire stations.

FARMINGTON — After months of work, the Navajo Nation is preparing to take over management of the Shiprock, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo fire stations currently operated by the San Juan County Fire Department.

The San Juan County Commission will meet Tuesday to discuss the transfer, which is expected to occur in the first week of October, according to County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter.

The tribe was initially slated to take over management of the three fire stations in April but requested an extension at the beginning of March. Tribal officials told the commission they needed the extension to hire firefighters to staff the stations. The Navajo Nation paid the county about $67,500 a month to operate the stations from April until the transfer could take place, according to Daily Times archives.

The county has operated the three fire stations since the 1990s, but a decline in revenue led the county to ask the tribe for help with operating costs.

The move to transfer management of the fire stations came after Carpenter sent the tribe a letter in December 2014 asking for $810,000 annually to run the three stations, according to Daily Times archives. Instead of paying the county, the tribe decided it would spend that money to operate the fire stations itself.

"We're handing everything over, including millions of dollars of assets," Carpenter said.

He said the county will provide the Navajo Nation with a comprehensive inventory list.

Carpenter said the county is also working with the tribe to develop a mutual aid agreement that will allow county firefighters to assist Navajo Nation firefighters.

Firefighters Leigh Ann Nez, left, and Derrick Woody collect their gear Oct. 22 as they prepare to respond to an emergency at San Juan County District 12 Fire Station in Shiprock.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation Council will consider a bill that would provide funding for the three fire stations at a special session for 1 p.m. Wednesday in the council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz.

Speaker LoRenzo Bates informed delegates about the special session in a memorandum released by his office on Friday.

The legislation requests the transfer of $417,737 from the Department of Fire and Rescue Services' personnel and fringe benefits account to the department's operations account. The money would be used to pay the county for operating the fire stations in July, August and September.

In addition, the money would pay for a training building and cover the cost of purchasing equipment, conducting fire truck testing and repairing equipment used to extricate individuals from vehicle collisions.

Navajo Nation Fire Chief Larry Chee could not be reached for comment about the bill on Friday. But in a press release from the speaker's office, he told members of the Law and Order Committee that the budget transfer would be a one-time request.

Chee attended a committee meeting on Sept. 12 said nine full-time permanent firefighters had been hired, according to the press release. But he said the Shiprock station lacks one supervisor, the Newcomb station needs three firefighters and the Ojo Amarillo station needs four firefighters.

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

Reporter Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this story.