SALT LAKE CITY — A veteran fire chief from Oregon has been named commander of the state's largest fire district, Unified Fire Authority leaders announced Tuesday.
Dan Petersen, chief of Fire District 3 in Jackson County, Oregon, will assume the role held by former Chief Michael Jensen.
A nationwide search for a new chief began when Jensen — also a Salt Lake County councilman — left his position of seven years in August after two audits were launched following allegations of improper compensation and abuse of public funds at the agency.
Jensen and his deputy, Gaylord Scott, both left amid questions surrounding department credit card and travel expenditures.
The deputy cited health reasons for his departure. Jensen said he left for the good of the agency and to start a new career path, not because of any wrongdoing.
"We had many excellent candidates but felt that Chief Petersen best fits the current and future needs of Unified Fire Authority," said Chris Pengra, Eagle Mountain mayor and vice chairman of the Unified Fire Authority board. "He is the right man for the job and brings an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge to the position."
While the two audits — one commissioned by the Unified Fire Authority Board and the other launched by Utah Auditor John Dougall — are still underway, Pengra said he's confident Petersen is the right person to lead the agency through any issues, if the audit's findings do discover any problems.
"We know we're making the right hire to help UFA reach new heights and ensure the safety of the people it serves," Pengra said.
The mayor said there's no solid time frame for both audits' completion, but he expects them to be finished in the next couple of months.
"The men and women who serve the communities of the Unified Fire Authority have anxiously awaited the selection of a new chief to lead our organization," said Jeremy Robertson, president of the Salt Lake County International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1696, which represents 90 percent of Unified's firefighters.
"Interim Chief (Mike) Watson and command staff have done an excellent job, and we look forward to the stability of a chief to give us clear vision and direction," Robertson said. "Chief Petersen comes highly recommended from the firefighters he currently leads, and we look forward to a great working relationship."
Petersen was selected unanimously by the Unified Fire Authority Transition Committee.
The new chief said in a statement issued Tuesday he had planned to spend a few more years working for Fire District 3 in Oregon, but when he was contacted by a recruiter in September, he became intrigued by the opportunity. After visiting Salt Lake City and meeting with Unified members, he decided to apply for the position.
"(Unified Fire Authority) has a very similar culture to Fire District 3; both a fantastic organizations with phenomenal people," Petersen said.
Petersen began working in fire safety in 1979 as a volunteer firefighter at Valley Fire Service in Oregon. He holds a master's degree in management from Southern Oregon State University, a bachelor's in fire administration from Western Oregon State University and an associate degree in fire science from Rogue Community College.
Before his time as a chief at Jackson County Fire District 3, Petersen served as deputy chief of administration and training, and shift battalion chief at the Medford Fire Department from 1988 to 2010.
He also served as vice president of the board of directors of the Oregon Fire Chiefs Foundation, among other roles on other firefighter organizations.
Petersen is expected to take the helm in January.