Medford fire chief abruptly quits job

Dave Bierwiler leaving for personal reasons; Gordon Sletmoe named acting chief

Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Bierwiler, who abruptly announced his retirement Friday, said Monday he couldn't disclose the reasons for his departure.

"I don't want to at this point," he said. "It is not a health issue."

Bierwiler, 63, has served as fire chief for 23 years; Deputy Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe has become acting fire chief of the department.

Bierwiler said he has personal reasons for leaving but was not prepared to discuss them at this point.

He has decided to take personal time off until his last official day of employment with the city on April 30.

Bierwiler said he's proud of his service to the community and the accomplishments of his department.

"We have an outstanding group of people and an outstanding department, and we do a good job for the citizens of Medford," he said.

Since he joined the department, Bierwiler said, it has added only five employees despite the population gains in recent years. The fire department has 82 employees. Medford had about 45,000 residents in 1989, when Bierwiler was hired, and currently has about 75,000.

"If you look at comparable size cities in Oregon, we have one of the best tax bargains in the state," he said.

Before joining the Medford department, Bierwiler was a fire chief in Colorado for six years.

Over the years, Bierwiler has overseen a department that has taken on emergency medical calls and offered paramedic services. He said the training firefighters receive has dramatically increase the survival rate for heart attack victims.

An automated CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) machine helps provide high-quality care for patients en route to a hospital, he said.

A Medford resident, Bierwiler said he likely will move to Colorado to be closer to family members, including a 9-year-old grandson.

Sletmoe, who was the first person Bierwiler hired for the department in 1992, said he didn't want to discuss the reasons for Bierwiler's departure either.

"It's his story to tell, and he's going to tell as much as he is comfortable with," he said.

Sletmoe said he credits Bierwiler with providing him with opportunities for advancement over the years.

"He gave me the latitude to grow," he said. "He's very caring, very outgoing, very easy to get along with."

Even though he is acting fire chief, Sletmoe said he hasn't decided whether he will seek the job permanently.

"Right now, honestly, I'm just more concerned about a smooth transition," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email

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