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New Ashland fire chief will work for Fire District 3

Devon Brown will be the next Ashland Fire and Rescue chief after Ashland City Council approved an intergovernmental agreement Nov. 17 between the city of Ashland and Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

Brown will serve the city of Ashland while he’s an employee of Fire District 3.

District 3 will provide “fire chief services,” including administration, personnel management, budgeting and reporting to the City Council and city manager.

Councilor and Mayor-elect Julie Akins voted against the selection based on a concern that the time between theorizing approaches to fire chief selection and hiring was too brief.

Former AFR Chief David Shepherd’s retirement went into effect Nov. 1, and Division Chief Ralph Sartain assumed the role of acting chief.

In September, the City Council directed staff to pursue appointment of a one- to three-year chief by entering into an intergovernmental agreement with District 3 rather than hiring a chief through direct employment — an idea proposed by District 3 Chief Bob Horton, according to council documents.

The option is intended to strengthen a regional approach to fire services, provide guidance for ongoing discussions about ambulance services, share best practices and allow the district to better prepare for leadership succession.

Brown, division chief for Klamath Fire District No. 1, was selected after meeting with Horton, interim City Administrator Adam Hanks and Mayor John Stromberg during a selection review process.

“The agreement is designed to preserve the identity, autonomy and flexibility of Ashland Fire and Rescue, while gaining the energy and efficiencies of a regional engine that powers the cooperative emergency response services across the entire Rogue Valley,” according to a joint message issued by the city and District No. 3.

The intergovernmental agreement requires the city to pay the fire district $18,333 per month for the remainder of the fiscal year, increasing by 2.5% each year until June 30, 2023, to account for payroll, workers’ compensation and other expenses. The city will also provide a vehicle, uniform and cover fuel expenses for the new chief. The total cost for the city’s next biennial budget is estimated at $225,504, which incorporates salary commensurate to the former chief, health care and all other costs associated with hiring.

Hanks said due to the upcoming transition to a council/city manager form of government and new council body, recruiting a permanent long-term chief did not represent the most timely and effective approach. Instead, the limited-term chief selection brings a qualified and objective person with regional experience into the role, ready to face challenges and opportunities concerning fire services in the city, he said.

During a Nov. 2 study session of the City Council, Hanks said a regional search intentionally sought a mid-career professional with a future in the industry, who can transition into employment with the district after completing their service for the City of Ashland. The necessity of regional coordination became evident during the Almeda Fire, he said.

“We do have a vested interest in the success of your community and the success of our region as a whole,” Horton said during the session.

AFR began conversations with neighboring District No. 5 in May about a dual chief, who would direct both the district and city’s fire services while other organizational structures were considered, Hanks said. Timing concerns put the idea on hold, as no deputy chief was in place to bolster the leadership team. After the Almeda Fire, District No. 5 Chief Charles Hanley could no longer consider adding a role to his plate in a timeline suitable for Ashland’s needs.

Effective regionalization does not inherently require geographic proximity, Hanks said. Sharing training opportunities, technology, software tools and equipment purchases help bring jurisdictions into closer coordination without sharing a border.

At some point, District No. 3 will sustain leadership losses from retirements, supporting the need for a “partner to partner timing match-up,” Hanks said. Ashland can proactively draw closer to the actions that are building regionalization in a variety of forms, while words like “merger” and “consolidation” remain abstract possibilities for further down the road.

The District 3 board approved the intergovernmental agreement Nov. 19, but Brown is not yet officially employed by the district, Hanks said Tuesday.

According to his resume, Brown is a registered nurse, paramedic and fire officer, and served as a U.S. park ranger, clinical manager and flight paramedic prior to becoming division chief of Klamath County Fire District No. 1 in 2017.

Organizational flexibility, strengthened agency partnership and “synergy in service delivery” are expected outcomes of the intergovernmental agreement with Brown as the chief, according to the joint message.

Fire chief selection comes as the council chose a Texas-based consultant group to develop an ambulance transport services cost and service analysis, to be completed no later than March 31, 2021, at a maximum cost of $48,720.

The city released a request for proposal for the cost and service analysis Sept. 18 and accepted bids until Oct. 15. Budget discussions about the cost of independent city ambulance services led to the requested review of expenses, revenues, overall value and potential cost savings if the service ceased.

During the Nov. 17 council meeting, Councilor Stephen Jensen sought assurance that the group represents a truly disconnected third-party perspective and is not an “ambulance advocacy group in disguise.”

Jensen and other councilors pressed that the analysis must be thorough and focused on finances, without edging into operational recommendations that remain at the discretion of the City Council and AFR leadership, including the new fire chief.

Hanks said he is confident in the company’s experience and understanding of what the city wants out of the assessment, and a successful outcome is bolstered by how the request for proposal was written.

The analysis will delineate financial details but stop just short of how to proceed with that information, Hanks said. Three contract proposal submissions had similar costs, all within the expected range for contracted services of this type.

As changes within the fire department proceed, Councilor Stefani Seffinger encouraged the council to keep an open mind to new law enforcement and fire department structures that may prove beneficial, such as the CAHOOTS mental health crisis intervention program, and possibilities for fire departments to take on more mental health field services.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

file photoJackson County District 3 will provide “fire chief services,” including administration, personnel management, budgeting and reporting to the Ashland City Council and city manager.