After roughly three years on the job, Cambria’s Fire Chief Mark Miller has been fired by Cambria Community Services District’s General Manager Tammy Rudock.
In her three-line news release Tuesday, Rudock said the firing is a confidential personnel matter, therefore couldn’t comment. Rudock, who manages the district that oversees the department, does not need board approval to fire employees.
Shock, surprise and anger surged through Cambria as the news of Miller’s firing spread. The popular fire chief accomplished a lot during his tenure and gained allies among firefighters and townspeople; and is even getting support from some people who opposed his enforcement. Apparently, in the process, he had alienated Rudock.
“This just came out of the blue. I was surprised,” Miller said of his firing. “There wasn’t any discussion or talking about it.”
Miller said he has 48 hours to appeal his dismissal and plans to do so.
Jim Buckley, who owns the Pewter Plough Playhouse, which Miller required be closed until some safety modifications were made, said Tuesday of Rudock, “She ought to be strung up! We have had a wonderful relationship with Mark. He’s great, a wonderful, understanding man.”
Miller joined the Cambria department as assistant chief in July 2005, rising to the chief’s job in November 2008. He began his career as a volunteer firefighter in 1973 and worked through the ranks at the Westminster Fire Department in Colorado, also becoming a paramedic along the way.
His employees, volunteers and affected community members have said Miller’s “velvet glove” methods have been cooperative but firm. He has tried to bridge awkward situations while getting things done and has managed to soothe some ruffled feathers during his time as chief. He worked with property owners to assure that the historic Camozzi’s building (now Mozzi’s Saloon) was refurbished, a fire-damaged hulk of a house on Center Street was demolished and the Pewter Plough Playhouse was upgraded with fire sprinklers, new emergency exits and other safety improvements.
A former district director, Greg Sanders, who served on the board for eight years, called Miller’s firing shocking. “He is a terrific leader, an innovative manager and very highly regarded by the fire department employees and other emergency service agencies in San Luis Obispo County, including the board of the health care district,” he said.
Rudock’s action apparently blindsided many in the community, even though it was acknowledged that the two leaders had different management styles that might have caused clashes between them.
Most recently, Miller and Rudock disagreed about allowing two retired firefighters — with a combined firefighting experience of more than 70 years — to volunteer at the fire department. Rudock said the two men, Denis DeClercq and Dexter Upton, are collecting state pensions that could be jeopardized if the district paid workman’s compensation premiums for them.
Miller’s dismissal comes at an awkward time. The Cambria Community Healthcare District board decided April 5 that one of its two options for replacing the district’s retiring administrator, Don Melendy, was contracting the work out to Cambria Fire Department’s chief.
The other option was to contract with an outside firm.
The two districts have talked for several years about combining forces.
“I’m just shocked, flabbergasted,” said Kristi Jenkins, health care district director. “We can’t continue in this adversarial or confrontational attitude in the agencies,” she said. The timing couldn’t be worse, said Jenkins, for the plan to have the two agencies work together to improve North Coast’s emergency medical care.
Sanders agreed, saying, that’s just one reason he feels Rudock should have consulted with the district board before firing Miller, especially because “she doesn’t have long to go on her employment contract.”
Rudock’s contract expires in May 2012.
Miller learned of his firing on his first day back at work after returning from a two-week stint at the National Fire Academy, where he completed his final management class and graduated with the academy equivalent of a master’s degree from the four-year executive fire officers’ program.
However, he had sensed that the differences in their approaches to the public were causing tension.
Miller and wife Michele live in Paso Robles.