The recent hospitalization of Poplar Bluff Fire Chief Ralph Stucker for complications from his earlier knee surgery has emphasized a deficiency within the department.
That deficiency surrounds the fact that the fire department is the only city department without an assistant department head.
The police department has a deputy chief, the street department has an assistant street superintendent … you get the picture.
It’s been nearly 17 years since the fire department has had an assistant chief. The last one, Sam Parks, retired in 2003, and he was not replaced.
Had the department named an assistant chief position then and retained that position, he could have stepped up immediately and filled in during Stucker’s recovery, making for a seamless transition.
Instead, the city manager had to appoint an interim fire chief, who was selected from one of the department’s three battalion chiefs.
Granted, I have no doubt, Mike Moffitt will continue to do a fabulous job filling in for Stucker and taking care of the day-to-day operations of the department, but it’s all been new territory for him.
His first day as interim chief, he made the comment to me, saying he was trying to “figure out what Ralph does” as chief.
Had the department had an assistant chief, then there wouldn’t have been a learning curve for Moffitt to face.
Plus, Moffitt’s reassignment as interim chief leaves his shift, B shift, one man down every time the trucks roll out for a structure fire, motor-vehicle crash, whatever.
That puts an added burden on the rest of the firefighters on B shift, and when that burden will be alleviated is unknown at this time as Stucker faces a lengthy recovery from not one, but two surgeries.
I know budgets are tight for every city department, but I think Stucker’s health crisis emphasizes a deficiency that needs to be seriously considered and rectified sometime in the near future.
But, for now, I wish Stucker a speedy recovery and Moffitt good luck as interim chief.