The former acting chief of Medford Fire-Rescue has accepted a new job at the Lebanon Fire District — the third high-profile departure of a department head from the city within a year.
"This was an opportunity in front of me," said Gordon Sletmoe. "It will be closer to my family, and it's more convenient to the places we like to visit."
Sletmoe will become assistant fire chief in Lebanon on April 28 and will have a chance to become fire chief there next year when the existing fire chief retires. His last day in Medford will be April 25.
Sletmoe earns $107,701 plus benefits at Medford Fire-Rescue. He will be paid $101,472 plus benefits in Lebanon.
Sletmoe, 50, had previously applied for a fire chief position in Bend. He didn't get the job, but was one of the finalists.
Last year, Medford City Manager Eric Swanson fired former fire chief Dave Bierwieler, who said it was over a disagreement concerning the proposal to consolidate Fire District No. 3 and Medford fire.
Sletmoe was named acting fire chief at the time, but he returned to his previous role as assistant fire chief after City Manager Eric Swanson named Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke as acting fire chief in January.
Doug Detling, former human resources director, also left his job last year, replaced by Mike Snyder.
Sletmoe, who has worked for Medford fire for 22 years, said he wouldn't comment on whether his demotion from acting fire chief to assistant fire chief was a factor in his decision to leave Medford.
"We're not going to talk about those days," he said.
Lebanon has about 30 paid employees and 40 volunteers serving a population of 45,000. Medford Fire-Rescue has more than 80 employees serving a population of about 90,000, which includes Medford Rural Fire Protection District No. 2.
Lebanon fire Chief Daniel Woodson said Sletmoe was chosen out of five candidates by an assessment team of 12 public officials.
"He was unanimously selected," he said.
Sletmoe said it's important for the city to consider increasing its cooperation or possible consolidation with Fire District No. 3.
"I think that it is our duty to do the best job we can both financially and operationally," he said. "If there is overwhelming proof consolidation can substantially save money and provide better service, we should take a long, hard look at it. If there isn't evidence it can save money or provide substantially better service, you have to question if it is valuable."
Sletmoe said he's particularly proud of the work that went into getting approval to build new fire stations to replace outdated buildings.
The city has approved spending $10.6 million to rebuild or remodel three aging stations: Fire Station 2 on West Eighth Street, Fire Station 3 on Highland Avenue and Fire Station 4 on Table Rock Road.
He said the fire department is well positioned for the future, with only two vacancies: the fire chief and a firefighter position.
"It is a very strong organization," he said.
Councilor Bob Strosser said he was sorry to see a talented and valued member of Medford fire take another post.
"He will be a loss from the administrative ranks," he said. "I think the timing of it is unfortunate. I wish he didn't feel the need to leave."
Strosser said he agreed with Sletmoe that the city needs to look at any proposal that calls for greater cooperation or possible consolidation, but he said there are still too many questions that need to be answered.
He said there have been errors that have popped up in the report being prepared for the city, including a suggestion to replace the relatively new Fire Station 6 at the corner of Barnett and North Phoenix roads.
He said the draft report also failed to make any reference to Fire District 2, an oversight that has since been corrected.
Strosser said he's concerned about a comparison of the revenues of the city compared to Fire District 3.
District 3 revenues have remained virtually flat for the past four years, and long-range projections for the fire district project an increase of only 1 percent over a 10-year period, while revenues for the city of Medford are expected to increase 43 percent over the same 10-year period.
"If there are no real substantive or visible cost savings, then we have to question it," Strosser said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.