Mayor Ed Sanderson has decided to advertize for a new fire chief despite concerns from some residents and City Council members that the city needs someone on the line and not in the office.
In a City Council work session Tuesday night, the mayor questioned the City Council's commitment, saying he thought "it was a `we' who decided to advertise for and hire a fire chief.""If you're backpedaling on a fire chief, tell me now!" said the mayor. "We've waffled for four months on this thing, and I'm not comfortable with the lack of support from the council I'm feeling."
The decision to hire a chief comes despite concerns from residents and council members who believe the city needs another rescue unit or "first responder" before it needs another department head. A first responder arrives on the scene before fire trucks and ambulances to render emergency medical aid.
"It's not so much that we don't want (a fire chief). We're just not ready yet," said Barbara Wells, who circulated a petition asking the city to bring on an emergency medical technician, a position for which it has budgeted.
The medical technicians on the rescue unit are run ragged. "We have only two guys. They're worn out. They're on duty 24 hours a day," Wells said.
Wells suggested hiring another first responder who can double as fire chief.
Sanderson said it's his job to be responsible for the hiring and appointment of staff for the city, and he believes scheduling problems in emergency services won't be solved by simply hiring another emergency medical technician.
"But I don't run the city," Sanderson said.
The mayor also said he would remove himself from the hiring "loop" to deflect any accusation that he may be choosing a fire chief who is a personal friend. Applications will be collected, screened and ultimately selected by a process directed by Police Chief Mike Ferre, he said.
Sanderson said he's taking a considerable amount of political heat over the situation and is ready to move ahead with decisive action.
Council members Carol Harmer and Freeman Andersen said they remember talking more about the need for a third "first responder" rescue unit than about needing a fire chief.
"The subject of fire chief never did come up (when the budget was discussed)," Harmer said.
Councilman Lewis Church said he's conveyed his feelings on the matter in writing to the mayor. "It felt to me that we did an about-face from the direction we were going," he said.
Andersen said he sees providing another rescue unit as a mandate. "It's an absolute must in my mind," he said.
Andersen said the ideal would be to hire a fire chief who could also function as a "first responder."
Sanderson said if the job is advertised only to those who have EMT or Fireman II level training, that precludes nearly everyone in the existing departments.
Richard Paulsen, city administrator, said an advertisement that started running Tuesday is telling applicants such expertise and training is preferred but not required.
"Let's just see what we get," he said. "Then reanalyze, redefine. We might be able to get the ideal."