Scott Olsen selected as Boone County Fire Protection District chief

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | 10:45 p.m. CDT; updated 4:18 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009
Scott Olsen was selected Wednesday as the chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District.

*CORRECTION: Scott Olsen is the third chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District. An earlier version of this story was incorrect about the Fire District's leadership history and left out Bill Westhoff, the organization's first chief.

COLUMBIA — Wednesday's Boone County Fire Protection District board meeting started 30 minutes behind schedule, but it was clear to the waiting audience, made up of reporters and Fire District staff and volunteers, that something unusual was going on.

Fire District board members whispered behind papers and one another's shoulders. After a few minutes, two board members left the room with the fire district's attorney, Jeff Parshall.

At about 6 p.m., the board voted 3-2 to make Scott Olsen the third* fire chief in the history of the Fire District.

Board Chairman Dave Griggs and members John Gordon and John Sam Williamson voted to make Olsen the new chief. Board members Shelly Dometrorch and Phyllis Fugit voted against the motion.

The other finalist was Kenneth Craft Jr., 47, assistant chief for the Bonita Springs, Fla., Fire Department.

Olsen has been interim fire chief since former chief Steve Paulsell's resignation in November 2008.

The board suggested a salary of $111,892 for Olsen, an increase from his $101,000 salary as interim chief. Paulsell's salary of $177,058 per year was one of the issues that contributed to his resignation, according to previous Missourian reports.

Griggs said he doesn't think the two votes against Olsen are "a negative reflection" on the Fire District's new leader.

"We were fortunate to to have two excellent, qualified candidates" Griggs said. "Both have excellent attributes. The majority of the board felt Chief Olsen had better attributes than the other candidate."

Griggs said his familiarity with Olsen and Olsen's experience working in a volunteer department were key considerations in his vote.

"I have personally gained a great deal of respect for him in my time on the board," Griggs said. "I think Chief Olsen's legacy, history in our department is what really made a difference to me, and not just in our department but in a volunteer department."

Olsen said he's "very excited and quite proud" to be chosen as the Fire District's leader. He said his duties won't change much because the board instructed him to act like the fire chief when he was chosen in 2008 to fill the position.

Olsen said the next step for him is to meet with the board to develop a strategic plan for the Fire District and meet with other area public safety agencies to develop the relationship he's already established with them.

Olsen began volunteering for the Fire District in 1985, and 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, the fire District's Federal Emergency Management Agency-sponsored urban search and rescue team.

Before he was promoted to interim chief, Olsen was the assistant chief of operations, preparedness and training, and he served as a planning section chief on a FEMA incident support team.

Olsen succeeds Steve Paulsell, who became chief of the Fire District in 1977. Bill Westhoff was the Fire District's first chief. He was the fire chief of the Central Missouri Radio Squad and the Boone County Volunteer Fire Department beginning in 1970, and when the Fire District was formed in 1972 he became the chief of the new organization.

The board, along with consulting firm ESCI, fielded 19 applications for the fire chief position. After sorting through the applications, the board planned to interview four finalists in September. However, two of the four finalists dropped out of consideration before the interview. Olsen and Craft completed a day-long assessment on Sept. 16 and fielded questions from an independent review panel and then the fire board on Sept. 17.

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