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Contentious hearing on Russian River fire chief's removal

An impassioned and sometimes rowdy audience pummeled the Russian River Fire Protection District board Wednesday for its decision to fire the chief the district shares with Forestville.

After more than an hour of public comment by nearly 50 residents and area firefighters, the board postponed appointing an interim chief to replace Max Ming, a veteran Forestville firefighter who has run both fire districts since December 2011.

Yet board members remained silent about their sudden decision to dismiss Ming, whom many called a popular and successful leader. Toward the end of the meeting, board chairman Kevin O'Shea, who served as chief nearly 30 years ago, said the board was instructed by an attorney to refrain from making any comment about what he described as a personnel matter and to avoid committing to any action.

"It doesn't make it nice and it doesn't make it easy ... it doesn't help you understand and it ties our hands," O'Shea said of the advice.

Ming was fired in an Aug. 5 letter delivered in person by O'Shea and newest board member Raymond Locke. The letter stated simply that Ming's services were no longer needed.

The move shocked Ming as well as Russian River department firefighters, who responded with a letter from the union representing the department's 12 firefighters declaring their unanimous support of Ming. Ming, too, sent a letter to the board, expressing his desire to work out any differences.

After Wednesday's meeting, Ming said he still did not know why he was dismissed.

"It's comforting to hear from that many people here to support us. Now the ball is in their court," Ming said of the board.

More than 100 people filled the Guerneville fire station's apparatus bay garage, an unprecedented showing for the district's monthly meetings.

Margaret Kennett, owner of Fern Grove Cottages on River Road, asked members of the audience in support of Ming to stand up, causing nearly every person in the room to rise from their chairs.

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