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Delta-area fire department temporarily shuts down

Rural Deltana responds to fires and other emergencies throughout the greater Delta Junction area, where most of the population lives.
Rural Deltana responds to fires and other emergencies throughout the greater Delta Junction area, where most of the population lives.

Rural Deltana board cites ‘accounting discrepancies’ for failure to pay volunteer department's insurance bill

The volunteer fire department that covers the greater Delta Junction area has temporarily shut down operations, following a financial breach that’s left it unable to pay for insurance.

The Rural Deltana Volunteer Fire Department board informed Alaska State Troopers about what they’re calling “accounting discrepancies” that’ve left the department without enough money to pay its insurance bill. But a Trooper spokesperson declined to comment on whether the matter is under investigation.

Rural Deltana board chair Dave Neuburger said the board members contacted Troopers soon after they discovered the problem, which some sources say led to a six-figure budget shortfall.

“Once we discovered this serious breach of trust, we took immediate action to address the situation,” he said.

The Rural Deltana board said in a statement released last week that “neglect or incompetence” led to the failure to pay for the insurance. And it said the board replaced Fire Chief Mike Paschall and removed him from his position as board secretary.

“We are fully cooperating with law enforcement and other authorities to ensure a fair and just resolution to this matter,” Neuburger said Wednesday.

Paschall declined to be interviewed, and sources say he’s left the state. Neuburger wouldn’t provide additional information about what happened. But he says the board is focused on making changes to prevent the problem from re-occurring.

“As we move forward, the department leadership and accountability processes are being re-evaluated,” he said.

Fire chief, administrator brief City Council

Delta Junction Fire Chief Tony White informed the City Council about Rural Deltana’s situation during a Tuesday meeting.

“As of Thursday morning, the Deltana Fire Department had to close their doors,” he said. “They are unable to provide service.”

City Administrator Ken Greenleaf told the council that he and Mayor JW Musgrove have worked out an arrangement with the Rural Deltana board authorizing the Delta firefighters to respond to calls outside of city limits, where three-quarters of the area’s population lives.

“The City of Delta has temporarily expanded its primary service areas to include the service area normally covered by Rural Deltana Fire Department, while that department undergoes some reorganization and operational changes,” he said.

The Fort Greely Fire Department also will respond, as needed, under the terms of a mutual-aid agreement. Greenleaf said Delta has agreed to allow Rural Deltana’s volunteers to join the city fire department, and he says a dozen have already signed-up.

“Volunteers from that department have largely gone over to the city, for the time being,” he said in an interview later. “It’s a temporary move.”

Greenleaf says the arrangement won’t cost the city much to add the new firefighters to the roster.

“There’s no pay involved, other than just the workman’s comp, while they’re actually responding on something.”

Both he and Musgrove both said they’re hopeful the situation will be resolved soon. Meanwhile, a dozen Rural Deltana volunteers are undergoing training with the city’s fire engines and equipment, because their trucks and gear are locked up until the insurance bill is paid.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.