Edit: I have confirmed that Eric Stevens represents himself as “attorney on behalf of Pioneer Fire Protection District.”
As part of my research into the early response to the Caldor Fire, I came across several statements made by Pioneer Fire Protection District Chief, Mark Matthews, about his experience fighting the fire between August 14-17, 2021. Chief Matthews has written an open letter to the community about his harrowing experience being trapped by flames in the Dogtown Creek area and he has spoken at Pioneer board meetings about being the first to arrive on scene to the fire.
These public statements led me to begin researching background information on Chief Matthews in order to properly build his profile. My findings continue to uncover troubling claims against Matthews made by multiple employees over several years in at least two different states. I have uncovered stories told by Matthews’ former fighters about alleged mismanagement, outdated training techniques, and lack of experience in wildland firefighting. Two firefighters were so concerned about Matthews’ behavior that they reached out to law enforcement who then investigated suggestions of arson in Palominas, Arizona. Another firefighter working under Matthews stood in front of the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors and made claims against Matthews about illegal spying.
While researching these claims I have reached out to the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors on several occasions to request comment. My questions posed to the board generally fall under two categories: Was the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors aware of the investigations conducted on Matthews’s by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department when hiring Matthews in the Spring of 2018? And, has the board investigated any of the claims against Matthews by his own employees since 2018? I have also invited board members to defend Matthews or comment in any way they prefer.
At the time of this writing my questions have not been answered by the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors. However, I did receive a response from Board Chairman, Randi Rossi, who made clear he is replying not as the Board Chair but as a private citizen. You can read his full statement, unedited, below:
In response to the matters you raise, I offer the following. I write not as the Pioneer Fire District Board Chair, but as a private citizen, as no one board member can speak for the board.
The matters you are referring to occurred years ago. No current member of the board was even involved in the matters you are raising. To ensure the matters were addressed back then, I spoke to the then sitting board chair, a former district Chief who continues involvement as a well very respected community sounding board, the involved private investigator, and the attorney representing the district. They individually assured me that the matters were investigated and satisfactorily addressed.
In an effort to afford you a more direct and open approach to more current matters and to the current board, you may wish to attend our board meetings where public comments may be aired and discussed publicly. The next board meeting is scheduled for February 8th.
Finally, you may know, we are in the final stages of hiring a new Chief. We hope to begin interviewing candidates next week. Employee input and fair treatment are important to this board. As such, our district labor representative plays a critical role in being full a member of the Chief selection committee.
Respectfully,Randy Rossi, Pioneer Fire District Board of Directors Chair (Written as Private Citizen)
Mr. Rossi also CC’d attorney Eric Stevens of Girard, Edwards, Stevens, and Tucker, a law firm in Sacramento, California. According to the bio page on the firm’s website, “Mr. Stevens advises public employers throughout California on wide-ranging issues. He provides advice and represents clients in internal investigations and disciplinary procedures, administrative hearings, arbitration and mediation, governmental complaints, appeals, and grand jury investigations.”
Eric Stevens, Public Employer Attorney from Girard, Edwards, Stevens, & Tucker
I left a message for Mr. Stevens to confirm whether he is representing Mr. Rossi as a private citizen or the Pioneer Fire District Board of Directors. I sent an email to Mr. Rossi asking the same. At the time of this writing I have not heard back from either.