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Welburn on track to succeed Marshall as chief

TALENT — Division Chief Darin Welburn has emerged as the top candidate to become the next chief of Jackson County Fire District No. 5.

District board Chairwoman Judy Baalman announced the selection at Tuesday’s meeting and the board directed legal counsel to prepare a contract to negotiate with Welburn.

“With the examples of what he’s brought to the district so far, it’s an exciting time now,” said Baalman.

Welburn was appointed interim chief effective Jan. 1 in the event negotiations are not completed. A special board meeting will be called to ratify a contract with Welburn.

“I’m looking forward to leading us into the future, continuing to find the Fire District 5 culture of the future,” said Welburn. Cooperation with communities in the district will continue as a priority, he said.

Fire Chief Dan Marshall is retiring Dec. 31 after 30 years in the position. A search process that started in October drew 16 applicants.

“Dan has a great formula. We have been able to hire the right people and to work with the district’s board,” said Welburn, who has been with the organization since 1985.

Firefighters Local 2596 supported Welburn as qualified for the position even before the formal search began.

“We think he will do a great job,” said Aaron Bustard, president of the local. “We are 100 percent behind him.”

Longtime board member Bill Robertson was pleased with the outcome.

“It was wonderful to see someone who has come up through the ranks at Fire District 5 so easily rise to the top of all candidates,” said Robertson. “I’m looking forward to some changes and I’m hoping this allows that.”

Management style was discussed extensively during the interview process, said Robertson. Welburn’s knowledge of district operations and personnel is a big plus, he said.

“We have a lot of changes coming up,” said Robertson, noting that a new business manager will replace the 17-year incumbent next year and that Welburn's position, which includes training officer duties, will need to be filled. Welburn would make that appointment.

Robertson said he had more calls from the public about selection of a chief than he did in 2012 when he publicly opposed a defeated equipment levy bond while not a board member. He’d previously served on the board 17 years.

The other two finalists were Lyle Armstrong, chief of the Rock Spring, Wyo., fire department and Thomas Phelps, battalion chief with the Alhambra, Calif., fire department. 

District 5 covers 115 square miles in the southern Rogue Valley and surrounding mountains and includes Talent and Phoenix.

In other business, it was announced that Business Manager Lori Keim would retire in August. She has been with the district since 1997. Also, the board directed staff to prepare a report on the impact of retirement options available to firefighters which give them one month of  extra pay if they inform the district of retirement six months in advance and two weeks if they give three months’ notice. Five of the last seven retirements have included an option.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.