Former Indian Hills fire chief seeking seat on district board

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By Sandy Barnes

Editor’s note: This is part of a series about candidates for the Indian Hills Fire District board in the May election.

Former Indian Hills fire chief Don Schoenbein says the “firehouse fiasco” is the reason that he decided to run for the district fire board in the May 6 election.

The $5 million bond issue, which the Indian Hills fire board asked residents to support to build a new station, prompted him to challenge incumbent board members, Schoenbein said.

“It wasn’t done in sunshine,” Schoenbein said of the failed bond issue, which would have doubled the amount of taxes residents pay to the district.

“When you want to double property taxes, you have to get community support,” he remarked.

Most residents did not know about the bond issue until shortly before the November election, Schoenbein said.

“I don’t think the outcome would have been the same if citizens had been involved,” he said. “People didn’t trust what they (the fire board members) were doing.”

During a community meeting held shortly before the bond issue election, Schoenbein questioned the necessity for a multimillion-dollar fire station to replace the current one in Indian Hills. A new fire station would neither improve response times nor enhance services provided by the department, he said.

Schoenbein said that instead of a building new fire station on the site of the current one, a substation needs to be built near U.S. 285.

“Highway 285 is where our call volume is … . You need a substation there,” he said. “I was focusing on that my last year as chief.”

Response times for the all-volunteer fire department in Indian Hills are up to 15 minutes for incidents on U.S. 285, he said.

“If we had a station in the lower part of the valley, we could cut response times in half.”

Schoenbein said he understands that the current fire station, which is 57 years old, is in need of repair.

“I spent almost three years in that building. I know it needs work,” he said.

“I felt compelled to get back into the game,” Schoenbein said of his reasons for seeking office.

“I’ve been asked to run by a number of people,” he added. “This is my community, and I still have value to the community.”

He is one of two candidates challenging three incumbent board members in the upcoming election.

Schoenbein served as Indian Hills fire chief from 2009 until March 2012, and has an extensive career as a firefighter and officer. He worked for the Englewood Fire Department for 25 years. During that time, Schoenbein held positions as a captain, battalion chief and emergency services manager for the city.

While living in Florida in 2005, Schoenbein served as director of preparedness service for the Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross.

He also is a Navy veteran who trained as a Polaris missile technician on a nuclear submarine in the 1970s.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.