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Acting fire chief appointed to interim post

Ashland City Council appointed Ralph Sartain to the position of interim fire chief for Ashland Fire and Rescue — a position he filled on an acting basis since Dave Shepherd retired from the post Nov. 1, 2020.

City Manager Pro Tem Adam Hanks said the AFR staffing proposal brought before council Feb. 16 represented a “workable plan of attack” to provide stability to the department’s staffing situation.

Several plans to fill the fire chief position previously failed, including most recently an attempt approved by the council Jan. 5 to fill the post through the Western Fire Chiefs Association, Hanks said. Two candidates were interviewed but did not work out, he said.

The department has operated with two vacant firefighter positions and an insecure leadership chart for several months.

Hanks said the newest proposition, heavily influenced by Sartain’s input, is “a really smart way of going about maximizing the skill sets that we have within our internal fire department, both in the management side and in our line staff.”

The plan, unanimously approved by the City Council, shifts staff positions up the organizational chart on a 6- to 9-month interim basis and leaves a vacant slot for a firefighter. According to council documents, the plan offers some cost savings by backfilling from the bottom.

The plan includes a one day per week fire inspection contract position to assist Sartain with his fire marshal duties.

“I want to get this fire department the stability we need to protect the citizens of Ashland and move us forward with the RFP and all the changes that are coming with the ambulance service without doing any significant damage to our budget,” Sartain said. “I think this is the best proposal left.”

Sartain said operationally things had begun to slip within the department due to an unsustainable, understaffed model. AFR recently completed testing for two vacant firefighter positions and now aims to fill a third.

“We have been putting an enormous burden on our existing staff for the last several months because of the various things that have happened that have prevented us from actually filling and solidifying that chief position,” Councilor Tonya Graham said. “We need to understand that this is a scramble plan, because we don’t have any other options.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Ashland Tidings file photo