City begins internal search for fire chief

Jefferson City officials have begun the search for a new fire chief, but are looking only at current city employees — at least for now.

City Administrator Steve Crowell said the city opened the application period Thursday and will be accepting applications for the position until May 29. Crowell said the decision to look internally was made by Mayor Eric Struemph and the City Council.

Struemph said the internal search was “something that (Crowell) and the council decided and I agreed with,” adding that the decision to try to promote from within first was a wise move.

Crowell said the search for a new fire chief could be opened to external candidates if it’s determined there are no viable internal candidates.

The fire chief position has been vacant since former Chief Bob Rennick retired in March 2013. It has been filled on an interim basis with Jason Turner, the division chief of prevention and public information.

Crowell said his goal would be to have a community committee review applications for the position. Though no details have been discussed or decided as to who would sit on such a committee, Crowell said it likely would have an employee of the Fire Department, an outside fire chief and representatives from local community organizations.

He also said he would like to see the committee’s review process be open to the public and possibly involve some type of public participation, though he noted that had not been approved by the mayor or council and was only his idea at this point.

“I’ve done this in the past,” Crowell said. “I think it’s important for that discussion to be out in the public.”

When asked if he would be supportive of having the process open to the public, Struemph said he would leave that decision to Crowell.

“We obviously hired (Crowell) to run our city and the administration thereof,” Struemph said.

Crowell noted one change he made to the job description currently posted on the city’s website. The job has always required a bachelor’s degree in fire science, emergency management or a related field, but Crowell said he decided to add a sentence that states “significant experience and training in a chief officer role may be substituted for the accredited bachelor’s degree, although preference may be given to candidates with a degree.”

Crowell said the new description is consistent with how Columbia advertises its fire chief position.

“I just didn’t think it was prudent to necessarily exclude somebody that may have a lot of experience, but may not have a bachelor’s degree,” Crowell said. “And the other way as well, somebody may have a bachelor’s degree and a lot of good training and analytical skills, but may not have a lot of practical fire skills.”

Crowell said the whole search process likely will take about two months, but that could change as things come up. He said once the fire chief position is filled, the city will move on to looking for a new finance director.

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