The City of Walker, Michigan has won the coin toss. They have chosen to receive.
For those of you reading this who may be unfamiliar with the term “backdraft,” I had never heard of it either until I saw the film“Backdraft” back in 1991. Oh yes, I know I’m dating myself but hey, I’m 45 and have no problem telling anyone my age.
A true “backdraft” is better defined as “an explosive event caused by a fire, resulting from rapid re-introduction of oxygen to combustion in an oxygen-depleted environment, for example, the breaking of a window or opening of a door to an enclosed space.”
So, I guess I’ll play the role of the oxygen in this backdraft. I don’t mind, really. As I have previously written, I’m not in this for ratings of any sort, and I doubt I’ll ever win any popularity contest. I’m a citizen journalist out to find and expose the truth. If the truth isn’t pretty, so be it.
Three officials in the City of Walker’s Fire Department are responsible for this backdraft. Welcome to the City of Walker Fire Department Wall of Shame. Enjoy your stay because I have plenty to write about each one of you:
Bob Walker, Director of Fire Operations
Phil McCormack, Fire Prevention Inspection/Specialist
Sue Kuklewski, Secretary
On August 9, 2013, at approximately 3 pm, I walked into the door of the City of Walker, Michigan’s Fire Department. It was there when I had my first (and hopefully my last) encounter with Sue Kuklewski, the Department’s administrative assistant, as well as Phil McCormack, the Department’s Fire Inspection/Specialist. I went there to drop off 90 fliers in order to invite all of the City of Walker’s firefighters to a “Firefighter Appreciation Picnic” (view the invitation here). This event was to be held on August 29, 2013 from 5:30-8 pm.
I had pitched an idea to the River City Patriots at a prior recent meeting about trying to host an even like this as a means of community outreach. We passed the hat and collected $301.26 in donations from private citizens and the River City Patriots pitched in another $200. The River City Patriots is a Tea Party organization. We worked together with electedKent County Commissioner, Michael Wawee, Jr. He also donated funds to hold this event at a park in the City of Walker.
When I stopped in to drop off the fliers at the Fire Department, I was greeted in what I felt like a “lukewarm” manner. I felt like I was intruding upon Ms. Sue’s valuable time. I saw a nameplate on a door that said “Phil McCormack” to my right, and a man came out of his office. I asked him if he was Phil McCormack. Then I explained the purpose of my visit and gave him a copy of the invitation. His response? “Oh, Mike’s campaigning early!” And he seemed to me to be rather negative in his tone. (I wanted to remind him that Mike ran unopposed last year, so there’s no need for him to campaign for another few years, but I didn’t.) Phil then asked who the “River City Patriots” are and I told him that we are also known as the Tea Party of Grand Rapids.
Phil’s response to that was that he leans “to the left” and that his son is all but a self-proclaimed socialist but he might bring him for a hot dog. Fabulous! I told him I hope he and his son could make it to the picnic. He told me that the Director of Public Safety, Ms. Catherine Garcia-Lindstrom was out on a medical leave because she had to have some surgery but he would see to it that she received a copy, since her name was on the flier. I told Phil that I hoped Ms. Garcia-Lindstrom was okay; that it wasn’t serious. He told me she had some sort of ankle surgery but might be able to handle hobbling around on crutches. Really? My city’s government employee shared private medical information with someone they had never met before? Aren’t there policies against that?
Ms. Sue said to me, “Well there’s really going to be a lot of talk about THIS when Catherine finds out HER police officers aren’t invited.” First of all, is Ms. Sue the spokesperson for our Director of Public Safety when Ms. Garcia-Lindstrom is unavailable? Second, the Walker police officers do not belong to Ms. Garcia-Lindstrom. They work for the City of Walker. Specifically, they work for the City of Walker’s taxpayers.
The River City Patriots would have loved to have invited both departments to the event, but we were operating on a tight budget, and we chose to honor the Walker City firefighters this time. I asked both Phil and Ms. Sue if I could count on them to ensure that the fliers (in three stacks, 30 in each) were distributed to all three firehouses, I was assured that they would go through the City’s interdepartmental mail system the next day. Fantastic. I left, but I didn’t have a very good feeling.
A week went by and nobody had responded to the email account I had set up for RSVPs. Huh? That was weird. I called Mike Wawee, and he told me he would call the fire department. Mike is an extremely busy guy, but he I texted back and forth a few days later. He texted me that the response he got from the fire department was that there was no interest in our event and that he really didn’t know what happened. I decided to wait it out a few more days.
Finally, on August 14, 2013 I received an email from Bob Walker (see below). I did give him my phone number, and we spoke on the phone on Monday, August 26, 2013.
Bob told me that during his recent “Monday Morning Announcements” in the department, he had taken a “verbal survey” and said that only one or two might be interested in participating and that he was on vacation the week of the 26th, and Ms. Garcia-Lindstrom is still out on medical leave. While it would have been really nice to have one of the three attending, the event could have certainly been held without them. It was just a picnic; not an official event.
I asked what happened to all of the fliers that I was assured would be distributed to the three firehouses. He said he put one up on each of the firehouse bulletin boards. Hmm. That’s not what I was told was going to happen when I was at the Fire Department. Then Bob told me that he “could not promote this event as it is a political event.” WHAT? I had already explained to Phil and Ms. Sue that this event was just to say “thank you” to our firefighters for what they do. I truly think that someone in the City of Walker’s government quashed the event. Maybe the six full-time staff within your department knew about this event, I do not believe that all 59 paid on-call firefighters could have learned of this event during Bob’s“Monday Morning Announcements.” When Bob kept insisting, “there is no interest in it” I decided it was time to say, “Goodbye, Bob.” But before I did, I told him that our group would never attempt to do this again. I mean, why would we?
To the City of Walker: Your lack of accountability and lack of transparency is getting attention. Take a look at your own website.
The Walker Fire Department’s Annual Report has not been updated since 2010. Reports are up for 2007, 2009, and 2010. Where is the report for 2008? Where are the reports for 2011 and 2012? I bet if I dug deeper into the City of Walker’s website I’d find much more lacking. Listen up. I pay taxes that pay your salaries. All I ask is that my tax dollars, be put to good use. When $15.22 is added to my summer property tax bill as an “administration fee,” I should not be noticing missing reports on your website. Perhaps it’s time to take out the fine tooth comb and start really looking. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Please make a note to get any and all missing reports up as soon as possible. I’ll be watching.
To the City of Walker firefighters: We tried to host a beautiful event in your honor. We had a staff of volunteers, the picnic menu was prepared, we had a volunteer to do face painting, goodie bags for your children, a sound system to play some music and a bagpiper to honor your fallen brothers and sisters. We just wanted to thank you for being willing to break down someone’s door in the middle of the night to save lives and recognizing that when you get a call, you are willing to put your own lives in harm’s way. We are sorry that the City of Walker viewed this as some sort of political event and that they maybe felt somehow “threatened” by it and refused to promote it. We would have loved to honor you and share a nice evening with your families. I think I can speak for the River City Patriots and Commissioner Wawee.
Thank you for all that you do for our city!
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