Cosi fire chief sacked over email rebuke

The chief of the Cosmopolis Volunteer Fire Department was fired this week by Mayor Kyle Pauley.According to former chief Cody Bridges, he was dismissed in response to a strongly-worded email to the mayor and city administration expressing frustration and concerns over morale, city policy, and how their department is funded.

Bridges served as chief for almost two years and has volunteered with the department for about 11. “I don’t know if I am on the Cosmopolis Fire Department at this point, or not,” he told The Daily World. Bridges said he was notified by email, but since he used a city email address, his access to that account was promptly removed and he was unable to read it twice.

About two days after the firing, a four-page letter was posted to the Cosmopolis Volunteer Fire Association’s Facebook page highlighting issues and complaints with city administration. It claims the city failed to maintain volunteers’ disability & pension fees to the Washington State Board of Volunteers & Reserve Officers, and that those dues were overlooked for two years. “What this means for our volunteer firefighters is they worked in dangerous, sometimes life-threatening situations without Injury Coverage through the State of Washington,” the letter stated.

A pension and relief fund that costs the city $90 per volunteer annually provides a small retirement plan for those who volunteer for at least 25 years. The association letter said that those two years were lost due to nonpayment. But in an interview, Bridges said that after the association called a meeting with the mayor and city officials earlier this year, “it did get paid.”

Another issue noted in the letter is the loss of their $2,000 annual “feed night” budget. Bridges explained that a long-standing tradition in the department was to host a meal where two firefighters would purchase groceries and cook the dinner to wrap up drill night. The letter said that last year, “after much push back from the Fire Chief and Volunteer members, the City Staff and Administration decided to pull the funding for this one time a month meal and have not returned this incentive since.”

Mayor Pauley said in a statement, “I completely understand the frustration felt by the Cosmopolis volunteer firefighters, and our other departments, as financial decisions have been forced upon the entire city this last year.” Some of those decisions were prompted by the curtailing of work at Cosmo Specialty Fibers, the city’s largest taxpayer. “Since the pandemic began there have been changes brought throughout the City that have not been easy to make,” said Pauley.

“As for the leadership change,” Pauley told The Daily World, “the Fire Chief is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Beyond that, I will not discuss personnel matters that may violate confidentiality laws.”

Other claims in the letter included failing to maintain adequate staffing levels of more than 15 volunteer firefighters (Bridges said they have 13 currently), failing to pay an annual fee to the association per city ordinance, and inadequate funding under a new purchase order system.

“As an association, we nominated the candidate we felt best suited to perform the duties of Chief. Our decision was unanimous,” Cosmopolis Volunteer Fire Association President John Bramstedt told The Daily World, speaking of Bridges. “The association has always stood behind Chief Bridges and he spoke for our body when representing us at the council level. The Mayor did not consult the association before relieving Chief Bridges of his duties. The Mayor doesn’t have to notify the association, but it further exemplifies how little respect is had for our organization and the desire to remove and control what we have.”

In an email, Bramstedt wrote that volunteers went two years without insurance, “After notifying the city’s financial director multiple times, and making the severity known (akin to not paying the state L & I). It finally got paid. Fortunately, we didn’t have any claims.”

Pauley explained in his statement, “I have attempted to convey the reasoning behind these choices to department heads and the City Council. With everything that has happened, it has become clear that some items were either not made clear by myself or their gravity has not been passed along to the departments effectively.”

“As I have before my election as mayor and since,” added Pauley, “I will continue to try and strengthen the relationships between municipal departments and can only hope that effort will be received and returned in-kind.”

Threat or Warning?

The letter that went out to the public cited Bridges’ email to the city as saying, “we will eventually have to inform the public of lack of crew to safely fulfill duties within the City of Cosmopolis.”

Bridges said the response he received implied that he was threatening to go public with information that would harm city hall, and that was why he was removed from his position.

The email exchange was obtained through a public records request. Bridges’ actual email said: “The blatant non-caring attitude of the city staff is close to forcing me to reach out to the public to inform them we are not able to service them correctly and safely due to poor city planning, Management, and funding.”

Pauley’s response included this: “As of now, you are relieved of your duties as Cosmopolis Fire Chief. You threaten to undermine the City, the department, and myself by disparaging the relationship in the public sector. That is unacceptable in any business, and most certainly as a department head.” Pauley said he planned to reach out to the association for qualified nominations for a new chief in the coming days.

The plot thickened a bit Thursday when Bridges filed to run for city council. He’s challenging incumbent Debra Moran.