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Public Education Officer Position Being Eliminated at Monarch Fire Protection District

Concerned Resident Wonders “How will school children, parents and seniors find answers to our questions?”

The Monarch Fire Protection District Board of Directors is eliminating the Public Education Officer (PEO) position held by an 11-year veteran of fire department, leaving a gap in safety outreach services for school children, senior citizens and local businesses.

Public Education Officer Ray Antonacci, who was hired for the position in February, 2013, after a medical leave, was recently notified in a letter from the Board of its decision to “eliminate the position of Monarch Fire Protection District Public Education Officer effective as of December 31, 2013.”

Antonacci, who wears a leg brace and uses a cane since suffering a motorcycle accident in 2009 requiring a seven-week hospital stay and 11 months of physical rehab, says, “I was shocked and disappointed to get this news after working so hard to get back to work in the fire department after the accident. While on crutches during rehab I earned my fire inspector’s permit and then was hired as public education officer. I don’t understand the Monarch board’s decision, particularly since board members voted in October to acquire more insurance for themselves that taxpayers will pay for.”

Monarch Board Members Robin Harris and Jane Cunningham voted to eliminate the district’s public education officer position in late September, citing “budgetary considerations;” but in mid October the board voted to acquire new insurance for each board member via a policy that provides coverage of up to $5 million with a $100,000 deductible and a yearly expense of $206,000.

The Monarch board also is eliminating programs that Antonacci manages for school children, families and senior citizens. These include the "File of Life" initiative, a customized file showing personal data such as name, address, date of birth, medical history, and crucial information to speed patient care when emergency crews arrive.

In addition, Antonacci has taught CPR to more than 100 different people since February and also developed fire emergency plans and safety programs for churches, schools, senior citizen centers, businesses and the Boy Scouts. These include managing the district’s AED (automatic external defibrillator) training; the hard wired smoke detectors replacement program; smoke detector checking services; emergency action planning for businesses; fire and fall prevention for seniors in independent and assisted living centers; home safety presentations at subdivision meetings; Boy Scout “Red Card” training before scouts go to camp; disaster and tornado preparedness programs for adults and youth; the “Tools Not Toys” program fire safety program for elementary schools; the EDITH Program  (exit  drills in the home); the “Stop Drop & Roll” fire safety program; the Kitchen Fire & Safety Cooking Program for middle schools; Career Path Education programs for high school students interested in becoming a firefighter/paramedics; and the Distracted Driver program for teens earning the driver licenses.

Antonacci also supervised the district’s extraordinary Prom Crash Reenactment Program for high school students the week before prom. This safety initiative reenacts a “live” auto crash scene on a football field featuring “bloody” drama club students as firefighter/paramedics and police officers arrive at the scene of a staged drunk driving accident to provide emergency services as a helicopter air ambulance arrives to provide additional assistance. As the district’s PEO, Antonacci coordinates this and all special events at parades, block parties and special events. “With our PEO position eliminated, there will be no central scheduler for safety events such as these,” said Monarch Firefighter/Paramedic Chris Gelven.   

Local resident Meg Marian said of the Monarch board’s action. “I am absolutely disappointed with the board for eliminating Ray Antonacci’s job and the Public Education Officer position,” she says. “Ray is a valuable asset for our community who has been extremely helpful to many people including my family and particularly my young son, who is a big fan of Monarch firefighters and considers them heroes.

“I am familiar with Ray’s work as a fire emergency and public safety education officer. Ray has arranged visits to Monarch fire houses for many school kids, including my son, so they can meet the firefighters to learn about fire safety and prevention. 

“Now I’m wondering ‘How will school children, parents and senior citizens find answers to our fire safety questions?’ Ray is very responsive and responsible – he has been there for us, always willing to help,” said Marian.

“Ray also serves the community by sharing rare disease information that may require emergency response by Monarch paramedics. He disseminates rare disease information that he receives from families to proper channels to reach the entire fire protection district. This effort can be life saving. Ray saves families many visits, phone calls and time trying to find the right person who can address our ER protocols/needs in emergencies. 

 “I hope the board members who voted to eliminate Ray’s position will reconsider their decision in the best interests of our community,” Marian says.

Antonacci served as a Monarch Firefighter/Paramedic for ten years until his accident. He has more than 20 years of experience in the EMS field, including with other organizations before joining Monarch. He earned a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Mass Communications with a minor in Philosophy from Southeast Missouri State University before earning all necessary certifications to be a firefighter/paramedic.

“I am now looking for another job,” Antonacci says.

For more information, contact Chris Gelven at 314 494 7832.  Media contact Jeff Dunlap at 314 409 5203.

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