Missouri Fire District Faces Uncertainty

Sometime between giving CPR Thursday night and lying awake and ignoring sirens down the hill early Monday morning, Joe Pace quit Blue Summit's volunteer fire department.

His decision to step down as president of the board — if he sticks to it — could spell the end of the troubled fire department.

Or it could open the door for a new beginning.

Either way, fire protection for the more than 600 people living on this unincorporated hill between Kansas City and Independence, plus several businesses, remains in limbo.

An attempt April 5 to elect new members to the Inter City Fire District's three-member board only compounded the situation with confusing write-in ballots.

An attorney representing the fire district had encouraged the board president to hold on while he and Pace try to sort through the names people wrote in on election ballots to see if anyone was qualified and willing to serve.

But Pace says he's had enough.

“I'm tired of fighting this,” said Pace, who's essentially been the sole Inter City board member since Patsy Creason moved out of the district two years ago. “It's time to walk away.”

Pace had appointed another board member — Gerald Barker — so that Blue Summit's only governing entity would keep its quorum of two. But it's well-known that Pace has been running the show alone.

While many neighbors appreciate Pace's 30 years of service, others, including some of the remaining volunteer firefighters, say Pace worked alone because he alienated others along the way.

An ongoing investigation of Pace and the fire district by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the FBI has added to the apprehension.

“Nobody wants to do anything for the department as long as Joe Pace is in the seat,” said Adam Kahananui, who's served as the department's equipment officer for two years.

It remains to be seen, however, if any residents in the area are willing to take on the load Pace has carried.

Without a board, the Inter City Fire District would not be able to pay bills or conduct other business. It would have to be dissolved.

The matter might then have to be sorted out by a circuit court judge.

Some of the options, the department's attorney Brian Engel said, include forming a new board, if possible, or assigning fire protection to either the Independence or Kansas City fire departments.

Engel thinks the fire department can establish a new board without going to court.

Pace said he knew his mind was to quit when he stayed in bed rather than jump and follow the sound of gathering sirens Monday morning.

The department does not have a radio system, but uses Nextel phones to get emergency calls. The Jackson County 911 dispatchers generally do not make the extra call to Inter City's system.

While MAST ambulance service usually calls on Inter City to assist, Pace often became aware of an emergency only after he heard the siren of an ambulance or sheriff's department patrol car.

“For all these years I always jumped and ran,” Pace said.

Since the unincorporated district covers only about a square mile, it might not seem too onerous a burden to shift service to a neighboring fire station, but Blue Summit's terrain poses unique problems for those unfamiliar with its tangle of narrow and dead-end roads on steep hills.

The fire protection issue needs to be sorted out quickly, said Jeff Jewell, who recently stepped down as acting fire chief because of the uncertainty of Inter City's future.

“They need to do something,” he said, “because people's lives are at stake.”

Joe Pace declared he is resigning from the board of Blue Summit's volunteer fire department, throwing the future of the unincorporated community's fire protection into more uncertainty.

Observers on either side believe Pace's departure could be the end of the troubled department, or a chance for a new start.

Distributed by the Associated Press