PINAL COUNTY, AZ — “You guys are acting like children,” exclaims Pinal County resident, Kathyrne Obregon.
She was one of nearly a dozen residents taking to the podium in a packed Pinal County meeting. Several people voiced their concerns after one of their neighbor’s homes caught fire on April 19. Homeowners Frank Hetzel and Marilesa Money, who lost their home, were in attendance.
“If we had the volunteer fire department there, our house would have been saved,” Money said. “Animals' lives would have been saved.”
That volunteer fire department, South Florence, is just three miles away from their home. But firefighters never got the call for help.
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office says they discontinued their 911 dispatch agreement with the volunteer department because it couldn’t provide accurate certification documents. South Florence Fire refutes that.
Larry Vincent, with the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department, said at the meeting, “Our state issued, through the Arizona Fire Marshall. State Issued Fire Department ID Number, FDID is 12173.”
Kent Volkmer, the Pinal County Attorney was also at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I know the community is upset,” says Volkmer. “The fire chief believes that they’ve done everything that they need. They’ve given us some of the documentation. We’re asking for more.”
So why was the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department taken out of service, 14 months after an agreement was already in place? After our on-camera interview, the Pinal County Attorney called ABC15’s Christine Stanwood. Volkmer was able to share an important piece of information.
After getting approval from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Volkmer says a ‘high-level’ sheriff’s deputy had several citizen complaints about the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department. He sent ABC15 the email with complaints.
The email alleges some members have faced charges of criminal acts against their neighbors, including trespassing. After that email, the county attorney started asking for documentation of certification and insurance.
“When they never provided that documentation back to us, the decision was made at some point that if they’re not going to provide that, we cannot keep them on because the liability is too great for the county,” says Volkmer.
In March, the department gave a copy of their insurance. But Frank and Marilesa’s fire happened one month after, in between documentation approval.
The Pinal County Attorney, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, and the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department will meet on May 4 about coming up with a solution.
Larry Vincent responded to the Pinal County Attorney’s allegation email, sending the following statement to ABC15:
“Thank you for taking the time to reach out to me regarding the statement of County Attorney Kent Volkmer.
Unfortunately, for the citizens of Pinal County and the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department, County Attorney Volkmer keeps his communications confined to news reporters instead of following his legal obligations under contract. In other words, County Attorney Volkmer has made excuse after excuse for his bad decision and his latest is blaming a member of the volunteer fire department who has served his debt to society.
The Cactus Forest community includes a very diverse set of people, including Veterans, former members of law enforcement, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and those who have prior run-ins with law enforcement. We accept everyone, especially those who are willing to lend a helping hand to those of our community. The latest justification from the County Attorney to remove the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department is about the fifth different version in the last week alone.
Instead of attacking the County Attorney, I want to reiterate the facts. In March of 2021, the Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb signed an agreement with the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department to be put on the 911 system. This agreement was to last until either party provided 30 days “written” notice to the other party cancelling the contract. This never occurred. And instead of moving forward and correcting this mistake that lead to a home burning down, the County Attorney is again blaming one of his constituents. Justice should be balanced and right now the County Attorney is out of balance by disparaging citizens willing to risk their lives for the sake of others.
I will continue to serve my community no matter who is in charge. To be clear: I ask nothing more than the South Florence Volunteer Fire Department be put back on the 911 dispatch list immediately; this truly is an issue of life and death.”