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Bunnell Fire Chief Derek Fraser Will Resign, Reviving Talk of Department’s Future

| January 5, 2017

bunnell fire chief derek fraser

Bunnell Fire Chief Derek Fraser has been with the city for a quarter century. (© FlaglerLive)

Last Updated: 6:30 p.m.

Bunnell Fire Chief Derek Fraser was visibly put out five months ago when he was called upon to justify his job’s and his department’s existence in front of the City Commission. Commissioner Elbert Tucker’s proposal to abolish the department and let Flagler County Fire Rescue replace it had necessitated Fraser’s defense. He prevailed, decisively so, with four commissioners voting to keep the department. But Fraser has now tendered his resignation, effective March 30.

Fraser, 53, doesn’t say so in his brief resignation letter, but City Manager Dan Davis, after conversations with him, said Tucker’s attempt to end the department played at least a role in his decision to resign, though he mostly wants to end his 25 years with the city, the last nine as fire chief, to devote more time to family.

“He did admit that that weighed on him pretty hard,” Davis said of the Tucker proposal, “and the budget, trying to run a department on $115,000.” Fraser is a part-time chief, making $25,500. He had a contracting business in the past, Derek Fraser Contractor Inc., but that has lapsed. He owns a management company that Fraser Storage Properties, with two properties in Bunnell and one in Flagler Beach.

“It has been a very rewarding experience as well as very challenging,” Fraser said in his Dec. 27 letter to Davis.

“The chief’s position is a part time position,” Fraser said in an interview this evening. “When you put the demands of that on top of a full–time job, after 53 years it’s time to slow down and spend more time with my family.”

The Tucker issue, Fraser said, “wasn’t a huge factor” in his decision, “it’s more of the time issue. I probably spent 20 or 30 hours in getting data to defend it, so when you have a job that’s packed full of responsibilities as it is, it creates a backlog, but anyway I wouldn’t say it was a major issue.”

The resignation is reviving Tucker’s interest in exploring his proposal again. And with a March election ahead, with three candidates—including two incumbents—vying for two seats, there’s a possibility that one of the seats could turn over, bringing on a new commissioner, though that candidate, John Sowell, for now appears to be on the majority’s side for keeping the department.

“Do we want to be a city or do we not want to be a city? A lot of the things that define a city are the services that are provided to the people,” Sowell said. “If we transfer money to Flagler County to make up for the services that Bunnell provides, there might not be a savings.” Sowell worked for county government as a pilot for its FireFlight emergency helicopter for many years. Still, Sowell said, he’s interested in having the discussion about the fire department and basing his decision on facts.

derek fraser fire chief

Derek Fraser at the August meeting of the Bunnell City Commission, when he was called upon to justify his job and his department. (© FlaglerLive)

To Tucker, the make-up of the commission may not have changed, but neither have the facts as he sees them. In his analysis last year, he saw savings of $130,000 to $150,000 a year, even as the city would pay about $30,000 a year to provide fire services, most of those being devoted to vehicle crashes or medical calls anyway: only a fraction of emergency calls have anything to do with actual fires.

“I haven’t changed my position,” he said. “I just didn’t have a lot of support. The dollars and cents of it really don’t make sense.”

Tucker says the Bunnell Fire Department routinely arrives at fire scenes after Flagler County Fire Rescue engines arrive, with the county’s personnel remaining in command and often getting assistance from palm Coast and Flagler Beach, as was the case with a fire on Dec. 30 in Bunnell.

“It just makes sense to me that we should hook up with the county, because we’re already paying taxes to the county,” Tucker said. “So we’re double charging the citizens of Bunnell for a fire department that always comes in second. If you look at the numbers and the history, we’re spending money that we don’t need to. And you can print that. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. It’s a determination, that’s what it is. It’s my determination.”

John Rogers is one of the two commissioners running for reelection. Bonita Robinson is the other. Both voted against ending the fire department last August.

“The fire department is part of our identity as a city, so I’m sure we’re going to be having some meetings on what direction to go and proceed with that,”  Rogers said. “I stood with Chief Fraser with the Fire Department in the past. It would have to be a convincing argument to change my mind. I’m sure it’s going to come before us for discussion.”

Of Fraser, Rogers said: “We definitely appreciate the years of service that Derek has provided to the city and this community. He’s been a leader, a great leader, a mentor and a role model for the volunteer firemen that have come through under his tenure, and we wish him nothing but the best of luck in his retirement. We’re going to miss him as a community.”

Fraser said there is one individual within the department who’s shown an interest in taking over his positiopn, and Fraser himself has put out feelers, but the position has not yet been posted.

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7 Responses for “Bunnell Fire Chief Derek Fraser Will Resign, Reviving Talk of Department’s Future”

  1. The Oracle says:

    Flagler County is in a unique position, to be a leader in the state, in consolidating first responder services. The small number of citizens served by these two law enforcement and fire departments (Flagler Beach and Bunnell), would likely receive better service, by well trained professionals, for less money. Consolidation is the wave of the future, and Flagler could be a leader in this arena. Consolidation is worth due diligence and serious consideration. It’s time.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good bye Chief you will be missed. ! Thank you for all you have done and built in the city. I also want to thank you for all you have done to bring together the other departments in the county. It was a pleasure working with you during incidents and training. Good luck in your future endeavors.

  3. Old time friend says:

    Hey Chief, there is an operations position opening up in the county. You would be a perfect fit.

  4. Truth says:

    We dont need to consolidate we need to keep jobs here and figure out a way. Public service is a noble profession and id rather our tax dollars go there then subsidizing golf courses. A communitys value is not based upon how much money it can save and then dump on special interests its about how much is invested into it.

  5. Donnie Riddle says:

    The City of Bunnell is losing the best chief the city ever had. Besides that he is one of the finest people I have ever known! Best of luck you are going to be missed by more people than you can count.

  6. John Sowell says:

    First and foremost I would like to thank Chief Fraser for his dedicated service. He has faithfully served the City of Bunnell for many years and done an outstanding job. That being said, his pending departure presents an opportune moment to revive the discussion as to whether Bunnell should maintain its own fire department. This is a serious issue and deserves a thoughtful and deliberate discussion. If the county takes over all fire services they would occupy the existing building with prepositioned assets not only for fire protection but also ambulance service which the county already provides. This could potentially save lives as it would shorten response times in an emergency. I believe the City should have a workshop and gather all the facts before deciding this issue and before advertising for or choosing a replacement for Chief Fraser. I served with Flagler County for many years. They are true professionals in every way and some of the best trained folks you will ever meet. As a small city we still have too much debt. The last couple of years has seen a great improvement in the City’s finances but we have to look at ways to save money where we can.

    I am running for a seat on the City Commission in the upcoming election on March 7th. As a candidate and potentially a future Commissioner I pledge to make our valuable tax dollars count and to constantly seek out ways to improve the City’s finances. I do not believe in deficit spending. If the Bunnell Fire Department makes sense to keep, it will surely survive at least having the conversation.


    John Sowell

  7. Gerald FRED Jacobs says:

    The City of Bunnell voted to annex alot of land in Flagler County and due away with the part time fire chief position. The math presented to the people on this matter shows taxpayer savings if the county takes over, but why would the city of bunnell annex if they didn’t have future growth in mind for the fire department? Politicians have sold us raw deals before; you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. The city of Bunnell wouldn’t annex anything if they didn’t think it could either generate more or save tax money.

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