Siuslaw Valley, Western Lane begin process to select new chief director

The candidates for the chief director position of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and Western Lane Ambulance District are (from left) Paul Sullivan, Keith Long, Michael Schick and Jim Dickerson. (Photo by Jared Anderson/Siuslaw News)

Four candidates meet the community before undergoing evaluation this weekend

March 2, 2019 — The selection process of the new chief director of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue (SVFR) and Western Lane Ambulance District (WLAD) began in earnest on Thursday night, as the four finalists attended a public meet and greet held at the SVFR main station.

“We did a nationwide search for fire and EMS candidates,” said Interim Chief Director Steve Abel as he introduced the four candidates. “We received 14 completed application packets, from all over the country, and it was a pretty good representation.”

The candidates come from Colorado, Maryland, Washington and Oregon.

Board presidents from SVFR and WLAD reviewed the applications, “making sure all the boxes were checked,” Abel said. “There had to be a minimum education experience, certification, things of that nature, in order to be considered. Being a fire/EMS chief is not your entry level into fire/ambulance services. So the board presidents looked through all the resumes and picked the top five.”

One candidate dropped out due to housing market issues, leaving four candidates in total. They introduced themselves to 50 members of the public who had gathered to get a first look at the new candidates.

Paul Sullivan was the first to speak.

“I’m from Baltimore, Md., the East Coast of this great country,” he said. “I’ve been in the fire service 32 years. Out of that 32 years, about 18 of it has been a chief officer, whether in a career department or volunteer department.”

After working in the field for around nine years, Sullivan decided to go out to strengthen his schooling.

“Got some education, some certifications, decided I wanted to get back to career service,” which he did three years ago, he said. “I’m currently the fire chief of Middle River Fire and Rescue in Baltimore County where I oversee about 160 members. Out of that, 30 percent are career members, about 20 percent are EMS members and another 10 percent are suppression, fire department members. And 70 percent are volunteers.”

In his spare time, Sullivan teaches at the National Fire Academy.

“I do have a number of college degrees, but they don’t mean anything, they’re paper,” he said. “But at the end of the day, education is my forte. I’d rather be a life time student. The profession is very fluid, it’s always changing, and it’s required to be educated to do your job.”

Next up was Keith Long, who serves as a chief in Colorado for Mountain View Fire Rescue.

“I started in 1980, and looking at some people here, I know you weren’t born yet,” he said to a group of young fire and EMS staff. “I definitely don’t know it all. I learn every day.”

Long stated he started out as a volunteer and has worked a wide variety of positions, including riding back seat on an engine and as a paramedic, flight paramedic, EMS educator and a state proctor.

“I come up here for some personal reasons,” said Long. “My parents are both in their late 80s and will be moving up here for assisted living. I have a son who wants to come to Oregon to play baseball. … I’m very proud of him. I’ve been married to the same gal for 36 years. I don’t know how she puts up with me.”

Long is familiar with the Siuslaw area, having come here before with his family on vacation.

“I’m an open book,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learned from them. I enjoy teaching. I teach a lot of volunteer agencies around Colorado. It’s something I’ve committed to give back.”

With a career that started through volunteerism, Long believed “volunteers are the backbone.”

“EMS is an integral part. We’re all first responders,” he said. “I’ve already talked to the chief. Some great folks here, you should be very proud of that. It’s wonderful, great place.”

Next up was Michael Schick from Washington.

“I’ve been in the fire service for 25 years, coming up next week,” he said. “I started out as a volunteer in a small community in Colorado — Louisville. I finished up as deputy fire chief and EMS chief.”

Schick came to the Pacific Northwest to help care for his parents and ended up in Camino, Wash.

“It was a great opportunity, but I never really thought of it as a place we wanted to live long term. Been there for five years, so my wife and I, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, vacationed a lot down the coast. We even took our kids to the sand dunes — we just love this area,” he said. “I saw the advertisement for fire chief/EMS chief. You don’t see a lot of those, but those are the two things I love the most in being a firefighter.”

The final candidate of the evening was Jim Dickerson, who is currently SVFR’s operations chief.

“I’m really humbled to be here,” he said. “My fire service career started in ‘96. Before that, I lived at the fire station. Since then, I’ve been an aerial gunner, a flight medic in the Coast Guard. As well as being the operations chief here, I was the training officer in Aimes, Iowa. Worked all the way up from probation. I was a truck company captain for a long time, so if there’s anybody who’s a knuckle dragger, it’s good to go. This is an awesome opportunity.”

From here, the chief selection process will become more intense as the candidates go through a series of assessments that will evaluate their communication skills, decisiveness, planning, organization, individual sensitivity, organizational sensitivity and technical knowledge.

“Friday they will go through a full assessment center testing process,” Abel said. “We actually have four job-related scenarios in which they will be evaluated. They’ll have a mock ambulance board meeting, making a recommendation to that board, played by role players. They’ll have a mock community meeting, and what generally happens is, they’re the new chief, come in and introduce yourself, and come in and talk about a topic you think would be of interest to the group. It could be fire prevention, it could be acts of prevention, it could be medical, it could be disaster, it could be whatever they want. Unfortunately, what happens when you get to a community group is, individuals within a community group have their own agenda and things they want to talk about. So they’ll have a chance to interact with that group.”

The assessors will be made up of 19 different experts, including several area fire chiefs, the police chief, city manager, hospital administrator, physician advisor, business owners, and “a wide range of stakeholders to help evaluate this different set of skills on each of these,” Abel said.

“Saturday morning, both Western Lane Ambulance and Siuslaw Valley Fire boards are doing their interviews with each of the four candidates,” he continued. “The hopes are they have at least one, preferably more, candidates that are not only qualified, but also the right fit for our organization and our community. That’s what we’re looking for.”

At that point, the boards will direct Abel on how to proceed, whether it be doing background checks on certain candidates, or restarting the process all together.

“It wasn’t the easiest trip for them to get here,” said Abel, who felt that all of the candidates were qualified and up to the task. “They had to have the right abilities and skills.”

In next Wednesday's edition, the Siuslaw News will go more in depth with the candidates, who will speak on the challenges they see facing SVFR and WLAD, what they think could be done to alleviate any issues and give an update on the selection process.

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