By Lyndon A. Zaitz
and Herb Swett

At its January 19 meeting, the board of the Willamette Valley Fire and Rescue Authority (Marion County Fire District #1), heard from the public about the discovery of a hand gun registered to Fire Chief J. Kevin Henson  in the department vehicle he was driving when it crashed in December on Brooklake Road.

Henson, injured when his vehicle rolled in the crash, was cited for illegal operation of an emergency vehicle. He was responding to a three-alarm fire.  The citation mentioned a loaded firearm in the fire department vehicle Henson was driving. In public testimony, Bob Palmer, a former volunteer and deputy chief with Marion County Fire District #1, asked whether this was true, and Randy Franke, the board president, said that WVFRA  had authorized the chief to carry a loaded firearm.

Franke said before testimony began that any personnel issues were the purview of WVFRA only.

In his testimony Palmer commented that he saw no reason for any fire district employee to carry a firearm on duty.  He added that he did not receive satisfactory answers when he asked the chief what specialized training he needed to carry a loaded weapon, whether he had any means in his vehicle other than locking the doors of securing it, and how he secured it if he had it on his person or in his office.

Carol Brown, who testified for about 15 minutes, called for Henson to resign his position as chief.  She cited several issues including the accident report stating the chief’s hand gun was not secured in the fire vehicle.  Brown addressed most of her questions to Henson.  He refused to answer her questions regarding whether the gun was in a lock box.  He did say he was cooperating with a district investigation.

The board also addressed a possible bond levy for the March ballot.  Chief Henson asked the board for direction on how much, if any, to seek in a levy.  The current levy is 16 cents per $1,000 valuation.  He added that all the district needs would require a  64 to 80 cent levy.  Some audience members said they could support 16 cents but no higher without knowing more.