MEEKER I The search for a new full-time Meeker fire chief continues as the Meeker Fire Board cautiously pursues the right choice to fill the vacancy left by the departure of former chief Marshall Cook.
The Herald Times sat down with two Meeker Fire Board members to explore the board’s progress in their search for a new chief: Wade Bradfield, owner of Meeker Collision Center, a volunteer EMT and board member for six years; and Doug Overton, owner of Northwest Auto, a board member for many years, a volunteer chief for 10 years and a fire department member for 22 years.
Shortly after Cook’s resignation, the board advertised for the position, and received about 40 applications, including one local, Bradfield stated. That number was narrowed to about six.
After several difficulties involving “applicants who were not brought to (the board’s) attention,” Overton stated, it was decided to basically “start over.” Bradfield likened the situation to “a reboot.”
A consulting firm was hired to aid the process. They will set up the interviews and create various scenarios to see how the applicants respond in those situations. They also pointed out other avenues of advertising the board did not think of.
“We will send (some of the original) applicants a letter and tell them we had a snafu and are going to put their name back in the hat and, hopefully, they will come back on top again,” Overton said.
Bradfield and Overton each indicated the board’s consensus that a crucial factor in this process is that they not get in a hurry filling this position.
“Because there was an election (of board members) coming (on May 3), we wanted to see if we had a bunch of new board members or not,” Bradfield said. “Rather than try to rush the process, we wanted to wait for the election and then march on.”
The board has also sent out invitations to the sheriff’s office, the BLM, the Forest Service and Pioneers Medical Center so they can participate in the interview process.
“The fire chief has to work directly with all these agencies, so we want to get their input,” Bradfield said. “We were shooting for the 15th of July, but after talking to our consulting firm, we thought we were rushing it too much. The firm also wants to interview these agencies, so we are now looking at about six to eight weeks from now. We don’t care if it takes six months or a year to find the right person; we will not rush it.”
Overton added that the volunteers will also aid in the interviews.
Regarding the issue of a “full-time” versus a “part-time” chief, which has been the subject of some controversy, Bradfield stated, “We are staying the course (on a full-time chief).”
Another question to be answered is whether the new chief would be a “working chief” or strictly a manager or administrator.
Bradfield shared the board’s view that they would pursue a “working chief,” not “a CEO or executive type.” He went on to clarify that the latter is needed in large cities but not in a place like Meeker.
“This is a small volunteer department that runs 350 to 375 calls a year,” he said.
“Since about 70 percent of those calls are medical, we need help with EMS staffing, so we need a chief who is willing to take on some call scheduling. Personally, I would really, really like to have a paramedic (as chief).”
Overton added that several applicants are paramedics. “We need a strong medical person,” he said, adding, “We have a hard situation here for paramedics because we don’t have enough activity to keep their skills sharp. If we can, therefore, get someone with a lot of experience, it will be much easier than it would be for a newly qualified paramedic.”
In the meantime, the fire district is “doing the same thing (it) did since 1933,” Overton said. “We have a volunteer chief, who was the assistant chief, and an EMS director. They all know what they are doing, but it demands a lot more of their time as volunteers.”
Specifically, Vaughn Moody is managing fire-related matters and Deb Merriam and Patty Merriam are coordinating and managing the EMS. Annie Purcell has temporarily taken over office administration so the volunteer chief can be included in hiring a full-time replacement.