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Mat-Su EMS chief resigns amid investigation of 3 top officials

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 6, 2015

PALMER -- The top Matanuska-Susitna Borough official for emergency medical services has resigned amid a major shake-up of emergency response in the Valley.

Clint Vardeman, who directs the borough's roughly 200 ambulance-based emergency responders, tendered his resignation in a letter Monday and more upheaval is likely to follow.

Vardeman is one of three top borough EMS officials placed on administrative leave in late March. The other two are Brian Wallace, the head of EMS services for the borough's urbanized core area around Wasilla and Palmer, and Gene Wiseman, who heads up medical response for rural Mat-Su.

The borough was not publicly releasing information Monday about Wallace's and Wiseman's status.

The borough's top emergency director is already gone. Dennis Brodigan, who led the borough's Department of Emergency Services, worked his last day as director on Wednesday. Brodigan resigned last month, citing personal reasons. He had offered to work through mid-May to help the department through the ongoing budget process. The department oversees medics as well as fire and rescue responders -- more than 500 in all.

The borough last week named Bill Gamble, the fire chief in Big Lake and Meadow Lakes, as Brodigan's interim replacement.

The three administrative leaves -- but not Brodigan's departure -- were triggered by an internal investigation that started with a class-action grievance filed by the emergency responders' union in February, borough officials said.

The investigation centers on what Assistant Borough Manager George Hays described Friday as "a lack of confidence in their abilities to lead." During the investigation, the borough interviewed 21 people in all, 17 of them union members.

Hays declined to provide specifics and wasn't available Monday for additional comment.

Borough Manager John Moosey said Monday that Vardeman's letter was not in response to an ultimatum from the borough to quit or be fired. Moosey said Vardeman and Brodigan served borough emergency services well in challenging times.

"We're looking for the next step in performance and leadership in that department," Moosey said.

The borough EMS corps has been in flux lately. Emergency calls in the Mat-Su, a place the size of West Virginia, are increasing annually as the borough scrambles to respond. Officials in January 2014 enacted a 29.5-hour weekly cap for just over 100 paid, on-call responders in response to potential Alaska Public Employees' Retirement System and health care costs. Full-time staff medics work long hours making sure ambulances are fully staffed or in close proximity to emergencies, though they also earn ample overtime.

Union shop steward Jake Boothby, a borough fire code official, did not reply to a request for comment.

Vardeman's resignation is effective April 20, according to his letter. He provided no explanation for his departure but praised numerous colleagues and said the borough "will be losing decades of dedicated experience" if Wallace and Wiseman leave public service.

"It has been an honor to work with the dedicated emergency services responders, both full time and on call," Vardeman wrote. "They are all dedicated people who put themselves in harms' way daily to make the Borough a safer and healthier place to live."

Casey Cook, the borough's emergency manager in charge of disaster planning, was named Vardeman's interim replacement last month.

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