Tremonton City is beginning in earnest its search for a full-time fire chief as the city transitions from an all-volunteer fire department to a combination of volunteers and staff.
City officials will start advertising to fill the new fire chief position, a spot that will also serve as the city’s emergency manager. Tremonton’s budget for the new fiscal year that began July 1 allocated almost $100,000 to pay for the new position, but with the additional duties and the evolving nature of the department, some are concerned that isn’t enough to attract the level of talent and experience that the position will require.
Last week, City Manager Shawn Warnke and the Tremonton City Council had a lengthy discussion around how to conduct the interview process for filling what Mayor Roger Fridal called “a high-pressure job.”
Since the position has always been a volunteer one, the city has had no specific criteria in place for hiring a fire chief like it does for the police department. Warnke said the plan is to follow a process similar to that of hiring a police chief.
“Generally, I think this is a good process that has served us well,” he said.
Warnke and the council have spent considerable time discussing the process, and came up with a general plan during a meeting last week.
Following a three-week advertisement period, the city plans to have a committee that will review applications. Those who pass the first round of reviews will be asked to submit written answers to essay questions, after which officials hope to narrow the field to no more than three candidates. Finalists will then be invited to a series of in-person interviews with committees made up of a mix of councilmembers and city staff, as well as current members of the fire department.
Warnke said the written-response portion of the process was useful in the most recent recruitment for police chief.
“It weeds out individuals who aren’t really serious about going through the process,” he said. “It allows someone to really think through their responses.”
Once that portion is complete, he said the oral interviews before a panel will help the city determine how the candidates might perform under pressure.
Those who conduct the interviews will then make a recommendation to the city council, which has to make the final call on the new hire.
The current timeline calls for that final decision to be made at the council’s second October meeting.
Whoever ends up in the job will have his or her hands full, as they will be taking on a leadership role in a department that is in transition.
The city in recent months has been exploring solutions for full-time staffing at the fire department, which has traditionally relied on volunteers to handle fire and emergency calls for Tremonton and surrounding communities.
A consultant had presented a plan that called for the hiring of a fire chief and two to four full-time crew members, but the city council decided against that approach in June because it would have required a significant property tax increase to provide the funding. Instead, the council made room in the existing budget for a fire chief and one additional police officer.
Current members of the fire department have spent time at recent council meeting voicing their opinions about how to proceed, with some advocating a full-time crew and others wishing to stick with the all-volunteer model.
The new chief will have to address those concerns while watching over a department that has seen a steady increase in emergency call volumes as the city and surrounding area continues to see growth.
“We have to be realistic about what a person can achieve in a position like that,” Warnke said. “There’s going to be a learning curve.”
The new chief will also have to function as the city emergency manager, adding another dynamic to the position. With all of these responsibilities wrapped into one job, the council decided the pay should be higher than what was initially proposed, bringing the compensation more in line with that of the police chief.
“This position requires that we pay more,” Councilmember Bret Rohde said.
Councilmember Lyle Vance said it will be important to give existing volunteer members of the department a strong say in who will be their next leader.
“We need these guys. They’re very important to Tremonton City,” Vance said. “We’re evolving from all-volunteer to starting to hire people. This is a unique situation to Tremonton, and we can’t fail.”