Consolidated Fire searching for leader |

Consolidated Fire searching for leader

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District's search for a new leader continues nearly a year after the old fire chief was placed on administrative leave.

Chairman Warren Knox and Director David Hanson met Wednesday with Jerry Johnson, a retired assistant fire chief from West Covina, Calif., to discuss the possibility of Johnson serving as an interim chief until a permanent leader is hired.

A special board meeting has been set for Monday to discuss the leadership void.

Division Chief David Ray is scheduled to retire April 30, which he confirmed last week.

The fire district's attempt to secure temporary leadership runs contrary to the board's previous publicly stated intentions.

However, Knox said the district has changed its mind, as it feels that a temporary chief is necessary to provide operational support to the current firefighters, while giving the board sufficient time to make a decision regarding a permanent replacement.

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"Worst-case scenario, it may take 100 days to 120 days to secure a new leader (depending on a variety of factors)," Knox said. "During that time, we have nobody with adequate management experience of the type we feel is necessary."

During the April 18 regular meeting of the board, Ron Coleman, a consultant who is being paid about $28,000 to find a new permanent fire chief for the district, said he had received about 20 applications from people based in California, Arizona and Nevada and hoped to have a new chief in place by June.

In February, during a special meeting, Coleman advised against hiring an interim chief, saying it was a waste of time, effort and money, and the district should focus on a permanent replacement.

Coleman offered the services of his consulting firm to help Ray and bridge the gap between his retirement and the identification of a new chief.

"You can consider me staff," Coleman told the board.

Knox said that in February, Coleman was also tasked with performing a comprehensive analysis of the district's operations, and since then, he has come to recognize the need for a short-term solution.

"The skill set of our staff needs to be augmented," Knox said.

Johnson is a retired assistant fire chief who worked in West Covina,a town in Los Angeles County about 450 miles removed from Nevada City. Knox declined to comment on whether Coleman recommended Johnson.

Knox would also not confirm whether the district paid for Johnson's flight or his lodging while he was in town for the interview.

"We did what we have to do to find the right caliber person," Knox said. "That is not public information yet."

In March, the board called another special meeting to explore the possibility of hiring Chief Gene Vander Plaats, current chief of Penn Valley, to fill in part-time.

Last week, several board members expressed confidence that newly appointed Battalion Chiefs Jerry Funk and Jim Turner could handle the operational demands of a fire chief while relying on the advice of Vander Plaats and Grass Valley Fire Chief Tony Clarabut.

On April 18, Coleman said the next step in finding a permanent chief is to sift through the candidates with the intent to narrow the field to eight and then after a round of background checks to three finalists.

The finalists will be presented to the board of directors in May for an interview.

"A chief will be hired by June at the earliest," Coleman said. "This is an accelerated process and we are moving as quick as possible."

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

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