North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) commissioner Bill Salter is confident the fire district will choose a new fire chief within the next few weeks.
Salter, fellow NWFR commissioner Rich Bosman and fire district 4 commissioner Steve Ness have spent the past few months poring over 21 applications from candidates for fire chief from all over the country and have whittled the list down to three individuals.
“We feel like we’ll be making a choice in the next couple of weeks,” Salter said.
The remaining applicants are Ron Anderson, former fire chief of the Meridian, Idaho, fire department; George Blackmore, former assistant fire chief with the Austin, Texas, fire department; and Jim Langborg, fire chief of the Templeton, California, fire department. Salter said he was pleasantly surprised with the number of applicants who threw their names into the hat for the position.
“It was unreal the experience that was out there,” Salter said, “We didn’t expect that many applicants.”
Salter said numerous fire chief positions across the country have recently opened up, mostly due to many fire chiefs reaching retirement age, and a few NWFR applicants have since accepted other offers.
Both Anderson and Blackmore had also applied for other positions in Washington state, which Salter said is common practice. Salter speculated that Anderson would have most likely been hired by Lacey fire district 3 or the Walla Walla fire department if those agencies hadn’t chosen to hire candidates from within their district.
The issue of promoting from within almost derailed NWFR’s service consolidation with fire district 4, which covers northern Bellingham. District 4 fire commissioners wanted to open up the position to any candidate while NWFR commissioners and former fire chief Tom Fields preferred to choose a candidate from within the districts’ ranks.
Salter said the NWFR commissioners agreed to the broader application process to maintain the planned consolidation and good relations with the district 4 commissioners. Salter said he was pleased with the results of the nationwide search.
Two of NWFR’s officers applied for the fire chief spot, but Salter declined to give their names. Salter said both officers would make fine fire chiefs with a bit more experience under their belts.
Once the new fire chief is chosen, Salter said salary and benefits will be decided upon based on experience level and education. Fields’ salary in 2011 was $112,000, with $25,757 in benefits.
Fields retired in January of this year after serving seven of a 36-year fire service career as NWFR fire chief.