GARDNER- The Upper Huerfano Fire Protection District Board meeting, held Wednesday the 13th, began in an atmosphere of veiled tension. After a quick review of the minutes from the last meeting, board chairman Steve Hodges opened the floor to public comment, the focus of which was the rejection by the board of Ruth Albano’s application to become a firefighter by a 3 to 2 vote.
The crux of the controversy surrounding Ms. Albano was an incident that occurred at the Mandella in Gardner. While at the bar, with her husband Joe Albano, a Huerfano County Sheriff’s deputy and firefighter, Ms. Albano witnessed the collapse, from an apparent heart attack, of an individual at the bar who had recently had a heart stent implanted. Ms. Albano, being a trained health care professional, took it upon herself to request that her husband immediately get oxygen to address what was deemed a life threatening emergency. The victim survived and was in no way endangered by the use of the o2, which is considered to be a drug. This emergency use of oxygen in the possession of Gardner Fire violated state and county protocols and was a breech of the inter-governmental agreement with the ambulance company. The result of which was the, temporary, removal of the oxygen kits from the Gardner Fire EMT units. Chairman Hodges believed that Ms. Albano’s rash response, and subsequent disdain for authority, made her an unfit firefighter candidate at this time.
The response during the public comment period was heated and thoughtful. Paul Biron questioned the board as to how the rules govern oxygen if the request is made by a private citizen during the course of an emergency. He also queried to what degree Ms. Albano’s disdain of “authority” could influence the board given she was a private citizen at the time of the incident. Resident Bruce Stevenson was disgusted by what he saw as “politics and minutia” and asked the board whether anyone had asked the victim (who is alive and well) how they felt about the actions of Ms. Albano. He was also worried that the fire department was more concerned with their liability and politics than effectively serving the community. Being that Ms. Albano is a nurse, it was asked whether there was such an abundance of willing and capable candidates that the board could afford to reject an applicant based on the evidence given.
Joe Albano stated that he believed the board had been unduly influenced by Commissioner Roger Cain, also a board member, and that Cain had acted out of spite because of previous allegations leveled at the commissioner by Ms. Albano. A charge of “conflict of interest” was made by Mr. Albano. In response, the lawyer representing the board said that a conflict of interest is defined by a circumstance that results in “pecuniary” benefit to the individual in question and that this is not the case here. Hodges took umbrage at the accusation of the board being a “good old boy” network and assured those present that he and the board are concerned only with making Gardner Fire the best, most effective, department possible. Hodges also stated that he wanted this drama put behind the department and his concern was moving forward. Hodges then went on to say that the board’s decision was not etched in stone and, if Ms. Albano should apply again sometime in the future, the board would revisit their decision. For his part Officer Albano said, he too, was committed to moving forward and, though he had thought to resign the fire department in protest, his wife had argued convincingly against it, and he has decided to stay on.
In lighter news, Captain Brian Sharp, suggested that Gardner Fire look to trade equipment with the other Huerfano County fire departments in an effort to create win-win situations for all. He also suggested the novel idea of a Gardner Fire yard sale as a means to generate revenue and clean out used, outdated and duplicate equipment. Chairman Hodges and Captain Sharp restated the need for new recruits, with the aim of doubling the manpower available. Anyone interested in serving are encouraged to contact Gardner Fire for more information.