Friday, January 02, 2009

TOP STORY > >Board could change Sherwood fire chief

Leader staff writer

On Tuesday, the five-person board that oversees the Sherwood Fire Department will try to answer two questions: Do they want a full-time chief? And if so, who will it be?

But one board member, Karen Jacob, has even more questions, such as why the requirements for a new chief weren’t discussed by the board. She says the first time she saw the requirements was when it appeared in print. “This whole thing has just not been above board,” the seven-year member of the board said.

And all the city council and mayor can do is watch what unfolds. The Sherwood Fire Department is not a municipal fire department, but a district fire department under the control of the county judge and the board.

In November, the board supposedly developed its criteria for a full- time chief and advertised for the position in state and fire specialty media. The deadline for applicants to apply ended Monday.

Jacob said that when the discussion of a full-time chief came up at the November meeting, she asked that it be tabled. “We needed more input from the city, from residents and the firefighters themselves,” she said, but the matter apparently wasn’t tabled.

The board has a pool of eight candidates, including the current chief, to choose from, if it decides to go full-time with the position.

Frank Hill, a 27-year veteran with the department and 10 of those as chief, serves in a part-time position, even though firefighters say he often puts in full-time hours.

Board member Tom Brooks made it clear he wants to see a full-time person run the department. “That’s no reflection,” he said, “on our current chief. But it’s difficult to manage 64 people on a part-time basis in any business. Yes, it can be done, but not often.”

“I’ve always felt in the three years I’ve been on the board that a full- time chief is the direction the department needs to go in,” Brooks said.

Jacob counters, “In my opinion, Hill is a full-time chief.”

She added that Hill and other members of the fire department discussed the affordability of a full-time chief during this year’s budget process, but felt the money just wasn’t there.

Brooks says the board is looking at three areas in a potential chief: background and experience in firefighting, a history of working successfully with peers and strong leadership experience. “That can be in church, civic groups or business,” Brooks said.

“All three are equally important,” Brooks said.

The requirements the board lists under its firefighting experience have supporters of the current chief concerned. The board is asking chief candidates to have taken an eight-week state firefighters’ course. The course was not required when Hill became a firefighter and he was grandfathered in.

“The lack of that course doesn’t preclude Hill from being selected as our chief,” Brooks said. “It’s clear that he has the minimal requirements.”

The board will meet at the fire station at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and will go into executive session to discuss the candidates.