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The Russian River Fire Protection District board fired the chief it shared with Forestville in an unexpected and unpopular move.

Staff firefighters said they widely support Chief Max Ming, who has run both Russian River and Forestville fire protection districts since Dec. 1, 2011, as part of a joint agreement between the departments.

Board President Kevin O'Shea and newest board member Raymond Locke handed Ming a letter last week that stated simply that his services were no longer required, Ming said.

"Frankly, I was surprised, and I'm shocked," Ming said. "I wasn't prepared for that."

Ming said the board members did not tell him why he was being removed. O'Shea did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Other board members could not immediately be reached.

With no explanation about the decision, the board notified the staff.

Russian River firefighters were shocked and disappointed by the news, said Anthony Nash, fire engineer and secretary-treasurer of the union.

Nash said he expected a packed audience at Wednesday's public board meeting at the firehouse at which firefighters will demand the board reinstate Ming.

The board is scheduled to discuss appointing an interim chief at the meeting, according to an agenda posted at the station Friday.

"We would like to see the board work together with Forestville's board to reinstate Max Ming," Nash said. "Financially it's a great idea, plus staff is in favor of him."

In an Aug. 7 letter, the Russian River and Bodega Bay Professional Firefighters Local 3051, which represents Russian River's 12 members, asked the board to handle any "performance disagreement" with Ming through mediation, as outlined in the contract.

"We strongly and unanimously support Chief Ming and the contract with Forestville and are confident in his abilities to lead the District both administratively and operationally," the letter said.

Ming said he also plans to ask the board to reconsider the decision at Wednesday's meeting.

"I want this to work out very badly," Ming said. "Right now I feel like I'm in the dark, I can only speculate."

Based at the Guerneville firehouse, the Russian River Fire Protection District covers about 20 square miles of Sonoma County along the river. The district fields about 1,700 calls per year and has an ambulance.

Ming, a firefighter with Forestville for 29 years, turned in his Russian River keys, badge and district truck on Wednesday. He remains chief of the Forestville Fire Protection District.

Ming acknowledged that he and the board had some management disagreements, but said Thursday that he did not expect the board to relieve him of his post.

Former Russian River board member Tom Wilkes, 66, a Guerneville native said he recently resigned in part out of frustration that the board was micro-managing Ming and concern for some of the board's financial decisions.

In an April 11 resignation letter, Wilkes accused the board of adopting a "confrontational posture."

"There remains a major internal dysfunction within (the district). I have observed huge communication, trust and consistency issues which foster discontent and conflict between District staff and Board," Wilkes' April 11 resignation letter states.

Wilkes said he will be among district residents at Wednesday's meeting asking the board to explain their action.

"As a citizen, I'm going to go up there and ask for an accounting," said Wilkes.

Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who also serves as operations chief with Russian River fire, said that he too was shocked when he received a phone call from board member O'Shea last week regarding Ming's removal.

"Everyone is in turmoil," Baxman said of the staff. "I'd love to see Max back, he's a great guy and was doing a great job, and I'm behind him 100 percent."

Baxman said that he was not told precisely why the board made the decision and didn't want to second guess it. Yet, he said that Ming was good for the department and he hopes the board will reconsider.

Ming said did not yet know whether his removal was legal given the contract between Forestville and Russian River districts. He is meeting with the Forestville Fire Protection District Board on Tuesday to review the documents.

"That will be up to our attorneys," Ming said.

The move, if legal, potentially puts Forestville on the hook for Russian River's half of Ming's pay, which amounts to about $84,700 annually including benefits, Ming said.

That's no small added expense for Forestville, which had a most recent budget of about $1.4 million, according to Ming.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the training room of the station at 14100 Armstrong Woods Rd., Guerneville.

Relatively new Guerneville resident Richard Skaff, 69, said he's been a regular at fire district meetings and also plans to call for Ming's reinstatement next week.

"I asked at the last meeting for the board to define the separation of board and chief duties," said Skaff. "This is the kind of thing that happens when you don't make it clear."

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.