COLUMBIA — Interim Fire Chief Scott Olsen promised Tuesday a new leadership style at the Boone County Fire Protection District.
In a closed meeting Tuesday morning, the Fire Protection District's board of directors decided to promote Olsen to deputy chief and name him to the position vacated by Steve Paulsell, who retired last week under pressure. Paulsell was the fire district's first employee in 1972 and its first chief, taking that role in 1977.
Although he worked alongside Paulsell for years, Olsen said he's sure his management style will be a change from Paulsell's. He said he wants to seek guidance from the board of directors, career staff and volunteer officers.
"My approach all along has been one of participatory management," Olsen said. "I will continue to take the advice and counsel of all the players involved."
Board member Shelly Dometrorch said the board welcomes the change.
"We welcome the new leadership, and I think it will energize the district and hopefully start the healing process," Dometrorch said. "There's been a lot of upheaval and polarization. I'm hoping we can get past all that."
Olsen began as a volunteer with the fire district in 1985. He was hired as a bureau chief in charge of support services in 1990. He was also the first leader of Missouri Task Force 1, one of the nation's 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency-sponsored urban search and rescue teams.
Until his promotion Tuesday, he was the assistant chief of operations, preparedness and training for the district and also served as a planning section chief on a FEMA incident support team. For four years, Olsen has chaired Boone County's Local Emergency Planning Committee, which develops emergency plans in hazardous materials situations.
During his time at the fire district, Olsen said he's been involved nearly all of its major projects.
Olsen's appointment was made effective immediately, and he will be paid slightly more than $101,000 in the interim role, a 5 percent increase from what he was paid as assistant chief. Paulsell made more than $177,000 as chief, though his salary was a point of contention, especially in the last year of his tenure.
John Gordon, chairman of the fire district board of directors, said the decision to choose Olsen over Deputy Chief Jeff Scott was a difficult one.
"We had two candidates, and they're both excellent," Gordon said.
Olsen was set to travel with the FEMA incident support team to Washington, D.C., in January for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, but will no longer be going because of his new position.
Olsen said his focus remains on the fire district's day-to-day activities, "trying to make sure everything runs smoothly, putting out fires and helping the public when we're asked to."
Gordon said that the board will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement for Paulsell but that internal candidates would also be considered.