DURANGO, Colo. (AP) - An area fire chief accused of taking
vacation during a huge wildfire this summer and spending money
without authorization has been put on probation.
Jim Piccoli, chief of the Upper Pine River Fire Protection
District, acknowledges some mistakes, but said the allegations are
part of a smear campaign to drive him from his job.
At least one district board member has asked Piccoli to resign.
The board voted last week to retain him but placed him on 90 days
of probation, citing inadequate job performance and policy
violations.
"He should resign or the board should dismiss him," board
member Bill Sanders said.
Among the complaints is that the fire district's computer system
was damaged by viruses after someone allegedly viewed what critics
called "unsavory sites."
Another complaint alleges that Piccoli bought two all-terrain
vehicles, one for $6,884 and another for $6,896, without the
board's approval. He also bought a trailer and miscellaneous
equipment without authorization, according to minutes from the Dec.
18 board meeting.
His detractors said Piccoli asked to take vacation during the
Missionary Ridge Fire last summer. The fire north of Durango burned
70,485 acres and destroyed about 50 homes.
Piccoli said he and his wife had made plans for their 25th
wedding anniversary, and he thought it would be all right to leave
for the weekend because federal firefighters had taken control of
the fire.
He said he took one day off.
Volunteer firefighters claim that response times are getting
slower and some emergency pages have been sent two or three times
before anyone responds.
"Morale is really low, that's my opinion," said Charles
Florence, a volunteer officer for the district. "I don't think
people have their heart and soul in it like they did three years
ago."
Piccoli, chief since November 2001, disputed that response times
are slower. New board member Don Rader said he doesn't know of such
problems.
"I think he's a dedicated fireman. I'm strongly supporting Jim
as fire chief," Rader said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)