Fire District seeks to include public in fire chief search

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:51 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 23, 2009

COLUMBIA — Board members of the Boone County Fire Protection District decided to give members of the Fire District and citizens a major role in the selection process for its permanent fire chief.

In a meeting Tuesday, the board decided to create an independent review panel, as well as solicit questions from volunteers and Fire District employees, in an effort to include outside opinions in the process.

Members of the board met with Bob Scribner, a paid personnel consultant for the Fire District, to discuss the next steps in the process.

The previous chief, Steve Paulsell, retired late last year amid controversy, leaving Scott Olsen as interim fire chief. Olsen is one of the candidates for the permanent position.

The board proposed earlier this year to create the review panel of seven to nine people, independent of the board of directors, to interview finalists for the position of fire chief and give the board their input. Members of the panel have not yet been selected.

“We have an idea of who we want to ask,” board member Shelly Dometrorch said after the meeting. She led the chief search along with board member Phyllis Fugit.

Dometrorch said the panel will be composed of people from various public safety agencies, such as local fire agencies and ambulance services, Fire District volunteers and residents of Boone County.

The other topic discussed was the solicitation of questions from Fire District volunteers and employees to be asked by the independent review panel. At the meeting, Scribner said the purpose of taking questions from the volunteers and employees is to involve the community in the selection process and to let them know that the board values their opinions.

“It’s important that this process is as open and practical as we can make it,” board chairman David Griggs said at the meeting.

Dometrorch said all volunteers and employees of the Fire District should receive an e-mail Wednesday asking them to submit possible questions to Scribner, who will decide which will be used by the panel.

Emergency Services Consulting International, the consulting firm hired by the Fire District to help in the chief search, should provide the board with the applications of those who applied for the position by Thursday, Dometrorch said. Of the 19 applications the firm received, four did not meet the qualifications and will not be considered.

The next step is to pick finalists from the 15 possible candidates. Each board member will review the applications, and Dometrorch said the board will probably decide on three or four finalists some time next week.

The bulk of the selection process will most likely occur within a two-day time frame, which Dometrorch expects to take place in early September. On the first day, finalists will participate in an evaluation method called an “assessment center,” run by ESCI, designed to determine how they would handle the fire chief position. Activities might include holding news conferences and making presentations to the board.

The second day will lead off with the independent review panel’s interviews of the finalists, which will be open to the public but not allow public comment. Griggs estimated interviews to last from 45 minutes to an hour.

Later that day, the board of directors will conduct its own interviews of the finalists, waiting until after to analyze the reports made by the independent review panel members.

“We would like to go into these interviews completely unbiased,” Dometrorch said.

The board will most likely select the new fire chief at a board meeting later that week in September, after taking into consideration the results from the assessment center and opinions of the independent review board.

“I’m really pleased with the process we’ve come up with,” Dometrorch said after the meeting.

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