“A very volatile situation”:  Baker City’s dismissal of Fire Chief sparks firefighters’ distrust

By on Thursday, March 14th, 2024 in More Top Stories Northeastern Oregon News

BAKER CITY – Baker City firefighters say they feel left in the dark after the recent firing of Chief Todd Jaynes.

As Elkhorn Media Group reported, Jaynes was let go as Chief on March 8. Jaynes says he was only told by City Manager Barry Murphy that the city didn’t like the way he was running the department. Murphy says the city cannot comment on personnel matters.

“We’re all still surprised, shocked and trying to figure out what’s going on and no one’s giving us any answers,” says Lt. Jason Jones, a Baker City Firefighter and President of the union chapter that represents Baker’s firefighters. “Murphy came and told us in person that he let Chief go, but says he can’t let us know the reason under state law.”

Jones says Jaynes had the support of the department since he was hired in July 2023 and crews supported his vision for the department, which included resurrecting the department’s ambulance service and contracting out equipment during wildfire season.

“We thought it was a great five-year plan, a great business plan. He was one of the few that were coming up with great revenue ideas for the city in their apparent financial crisis,” said Jones. “So we still don’t quite understand why out of the blue it’s going down the way it went down.”

Jaynes told Elkhorn Media Group that he believes pushback to his plans to resurrect the ambulance service may in part have led to his dismissal. 

“The reason that Chief Jaynes wasn’t able to move forward with his plans has all been politics. City and county politics,” said Jones. “That’s been a forever Baker tradition that nothing can get done because of city and county politics.”

“I can tell you that those were not the reasons for the dismissal. We were still in the process of working out the details of those plans, which in my mind were and are basically sound, good ideas,” said Councilor Larry Pearson in an email. “This is a very unfortunate situation that our City Manager has had to deal with. I have confidence in him and will leave explaining all the details up to him.”

“Council was not involved with the decision. The City Manager has full authority over all city personnel issues,” said Councilor Loran Joseph in an email.

“I cannot, and will not, comment on personnel matters,” said Councilor Doni Bruland in an email. “Unfortunately, this leads to lots of speculation and rumors, but that cannot be helped as it’s part of protecting privacy.”

Jones says he’s not sure what will happen with the department moving forward.

“There’s a lot of questions about the stability of the department. There’s a rocky history in this department and right now in my opinion the department is in a very rocky spot again,” said Jones. “There’s not a lot of trust that the city even wants a fire department to be quite honest with you. It’s a very volatile situation.”

In an statement earlier this week to Elkhorn Media Group, Barry Murphy said, “As far as the way ahead, I am committed to the success of this city and the Fire Department. We will look to hire a new fire chief as soon as possible.”