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Ashland hires new fire chief

There’s a new chief in town.

The Ashland City Council has hired Mike D’Orazi, a retired fire chief from Northern California, to fill the slot left empty when Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns left the department to become acting city administrator in November 2016.

The 27-person department, which covers 6.52 square miles and provides medical transport across 650 square miles from the California border to Phoenix, had been led in the interim by Deputy Chief David Shepherd.

D’Orazi was the fire chief for Alameda, California, from 2011-14. D’Orazi was known for his strong ties with the rank-and-file and a strong background in labor issues, with more than 20 years working in the firefighters union.

“What stood out about Mike is his experience,” Karns said. “There were three finalists, and it was a close race.”

“Coming into this job, I want to be the person who can facilitate the mission that Ashland Fire & Rescue is already doing,” D’Orazi said. “I understand and believe in Karns’ philosophy when he was chief of the department, and I’m not going to disrupt what is going on and start implementing things.”

D’Orazi started his career as a firefighter in 1979 and gradually climbed up the ladder, becoming lieutenant in 1988 and a captain 11 years later. He retired in 2007 because of family issues, but he came back to the force in 2011 after the department's chief resigned following a scandal over his personal use of city gas pumps.

Shortly into D’Orazi's tenure, the Alameda Fire Department faced criticism from the public when a man drowned as more than a dozen police and firefighters watched, the San Jose Mercury News reported. With morale hitting rock bottom, D’Orazi changed the department’s policy, implemented new services and required new training.

When he retired again in 2014, the city manager called D’Orazi “a visionary leader,” according to a press release.

“I knew I wanted to be at a smaller department with a stable background,” D'Orazi said during a phone interview. “I didn’t want to come into a big department and play a political role. I want to be a hands-on chief.”

D’Orazi will oversee four divisions — fire and emergency operations, life safety, forest division, and medical transportation — and also act as the city’s emergency manager. The annual budget for Ashland Fire & Rescue is around $7.5 million to $8 million in the current biennium, Karns said.

Ashland Fire & Rescue also works closely with neighboring districts, especially when it comes to fighting wildfires, Karns added.

Karns said Ashland's changing demographics will pose a challenge for D’Orazi.

“With more seniors, it’s just more demanding,” he said, adding he has full confidence in D’Orazi’s ability.

D’Orazi said he welcomes the change and the challenges.

"I’m a good listener, and I believe my management experience will help me in my job,” D’Orazi said. “I want to see my station rooted in community, and I want them to be proud of their community. ... I want to be a hands-on chief, and my door is open to anybody from the community.”

D’Orazi will start Jan. 3. His salary is expected to be $123,234 a year.

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.