Yarnell Fire Chief Jim Koile Quits

Yarnell Fire Chief Jim Koile announced at a fire board meeting yesterday that he's quitting.

Some local residents pointed the finger at Koile after the Yarnell Hill Fire destroyed many homes in the small community. Local residents have also been raising the issue of Koile's 1974 manslaughter conviction, especially after this deadly fire.

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Koile was in a similar situation with citizen complaints back in 2001, but not after a fire such as the Yarnell Hill Fire. Koile had been the chief of the Williamson Valley Volunteer Fire Department, and citizens alleged mismanagement, and brought up his manslaughter conviction.

Prescott's Daily Courier pulled the court records in 2001, as Koile -- who was a Mesa firefighter back in the early '70s -- was in charge of watching his then-girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

From the Courier:

Koile said he spanked and pushed his live-in girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, and she accidentally hit her head on the edge of her crib, according to court records.

He said he tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage but thought Carla Kay Dahlstedt had died and, panicking, he buried her in the desert.
So, when his girlfriend came home, Koile explained that someone must have abducted her. Six hours later, after police questioning, Koile admitted that he buried the girl in the desert, according to the report.

Police dug up the child -- alive.

The girl died at a hospital the next day from brain damage, according to the report.

Koile ended up getting a sentence of probation for involuntary manslaughter, and five years later, a judge granted Koile's request to have the conviction dismissed.

Sure enough, the Courier reiterated this information in a story on Sunday, and Koile resigned two days later.

In a letter to the fire board obtained by New Times, one citizen who's leading the charge against Koile noted this manslaughter conviction, as well as other complaints about Koile's history, and asked Koile to leave in order to prevent a recall election of the entire fire board.

Yarnell residents have alleged that Koile also failed to continue a program to manage the "fuels abatement program" which was operated by the previous chief, which could have helped protect the small town from the Yarnell Hill Fire.

That citizen's letter to the fire board has also blamed Koile for not putting out the fire when it was small.

"On Friday afternoon (June 28th) when it would have been easy to put the fire out with either a couple of small aircraft drops OR six men/women with shovels--he simply was not around to put up a fight for Yarnell. Had he done so, we might not have had the tragedy of the '19' on Sunday," the letter states.

According to a Courier article on Koile's resignation, he'll keep the post until November 30. The only reasoning he submitted was that he "recognize[s] that the fire department and community of Yarnell are now at a point where a younger fire chief with high energy and progressive ideas is required."

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley