Penn Valley fire officials to create proposal for new chief |

Penn Valley fire officials to create proposal for new chief

Penn Valley Fire Protection District officials moved a step closer this week to choosing a new chief, but stopped short of outright naming Interim Chief Don Wagner.

Fire board members John Pelonio and Robert Webster agreed Tuesday to work together on a proposal for a new chief for presentation at next month’s board meeting.

Although they declined to say that the plan would be to make Wagner the permanent chief, other options seemed to be closing down.

“An open (recruitment) process takes time,” said Pelonio. “We’d be lucky to get someone in by the end of June.”

Wagner’s interim appointment ends next June but could be extended on a month-to-month basis if the district needed more time.

Board members said Tuesday they didn’t want to wait for the dust to settle on a single “super-chief” shared services plan with Nevada City, Grass Valley and Nevada County Consolidated fire departments, especially since that plan recently was turned on its heels.

Penn Valley had already pulled out of the plan when Consolidated last month abruptly decided to forgo a “super-chief” and instead promote Division Chief Jim Turner to fire chief and Division Chief Jerry Funk to deputy chief.

Board Chairman Kurt Grundel said it appeared that the “super-chief idea was a dead issue.” He said he was in favor of moving ahead to make Wagner permanent.

Others were not completely certain they wanted to rule out forever the idea of cooperating with the other Nevada County fire agencies.

“While that took everybody by surprise, when the dust settles, we’re still hovering to see what’s evolving and see if it’s good for us,” said board member David Farrell. “Are we convinced that it’s totally over?”

At issue with the “super-chief” plan are the challenges of either hiring from in-state or out of state. While hiring a chief with California experience is thought to be most desirable, new regulations from the California Public Employees Retirement System limit the ability to hire California fire chief retirees and so reduce the potential hiring pool, said Penn Valley Fire Capt. Clayton Thomas, who researched the shared services proposal that was floated Aug. 14.

Hiring from out of state doesn’t seem to work well either, given Consolidated’s recent experience with hiring a chief from New Mexico, who left after only a few months, board members said.

In other business, Penn Valley fire board members agreed to:

— Research the possibility of replacing services of the Nevada County fire planner with in-house firefighter staff. The fire planner, who assists with creating building plans for commercial businesses, is a Cal Fire employee but works under the county’s auspices on a part-time basis at the rate of about $133 per hour.

Thomas said there had been frequent turnovers in the post, and a lack of response. Wagner said he tried to contact a planner, but the person never returned his calls. Thomas said he believed that Penn Valley’s existing staff could do the job for the same or less money on an overtime basis.

Wagner said it would offer staff a chance to earn extra money and also gain new training credentials.

— Approved a final $2.017 million 2014-15 budget, a slight rise from the $1.935 million approved 2013-14 spending plan and from the $1.888 million actual budget for 2013-14.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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