Savage Fire Chief Andrain Roach resigned this week after only three months on the job, citing what he called unrealistic expectations from city leaders and a general lack of support that he said hindered efforts to modernize the department.
Roach, an 11-year veteran, said that inadequate staffing levels citywide — paired with round-the-clock demands — have taken a “mental, physical and emotional toll” on him and his family, according to a resignation letter obtained by the Savage Pacer.
After taking the helm in May, Roach says he set out to improve the efficiency of fire and life safety services throughout the growing southwestern suburb.
“Unfortunately, since day one, I do not feel as though I have been provided the necessary tools and/or support to accomplish this,” he wrote, adding that the city must resist the temptation to view itself as the “rural, small town” it once was. “[Savage is] rapidly developing, and the services and resources the city provides its community should reflect that.”
Amid more than a dozen policy recommendations, Roach argued the city needs to reevaluate its current paid-on-call volunteer service model to shorten response times and better serve residents.
The Savage City Council accepted Roach’s resignation at Monday night’s meeting without discussion. Deputy Fire Chief Andrew Slama was tapped to replace him as interim chief.
Mayor Janet Williams and City Administrator Brad Larson declined to comment on the letter’s contents. But Williams said the council weighed alternative staffing models for the fire department during a special meeting on July 8.
Larson suggested leaders consider adopting a duty crew, which would allow paid-on-call firefighters to work scheduled shifts during the city’s peak service-call periods. But, at a cost of roughly $100,000 per firefighter, he said that model may be prohibitive.
Council members ultimately agreed they needed more information before taking action, according to the meeting minutes.
“The council felt we needed to hear it from the chief,” Williams told the Star Tribune. Roach never came before the council to discuss the matter, she said, even after being invited.
In his resignation letter, Roach criticized the on-call model and recommended transitioning toward a full-time duty crew.
“The paid-on-call/volunteer service model has been proven to be not as effective and reliable as it once was due to current work and family demands, and our citizens and visitors deserve better,” wrote Roach, who could not be reached for comment Friday.
Nicknamed “Scooby,” Roach grew up in Jamaica and moved to the United States in 2006. Former Chief Joel McColl offered him a position shortly after Roach relocated his family to Savage, where he spent 10 years as a paid-on-call firefighter and captain, according to his online bio. Meanwhile, Roach worked as a full-time fire paramedic and SWAT medic in the neighboring Burnsville.
He retired as a captain from Savage in January, but his absence was short-lived. Roach replaced the retiring McColl four months later.
Staff writer David Chanen contributed to this report.