Process of replacing fire chief kicks into high gear

Published 6:47 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Austin Fire Civil Service Commission is supporting the city’s plan on transitioning to a new fire chief — a process that is now kicking into high gear as Dan Wilson’s retirement approaches.

That plan calls for current-commander Brian Lovik to take over Jan. 1, the day after Wilson is set to retire. The next step would be to find an interim chief — hopefully by the end of January or early February, city officials said — who could serve for no more than 30 days, per state law.

The city wants a new, full-time chief in place by March, though the process could take longer.

On Tuesday, the commission gave more details on how an interim chief will be found and what the city is looking for in that person.

The commission will look to outside sources, such as databases with names of retired fire chiefs in the state and region, and then interview interested candidates.

The city is specifically looking for someone outside of the Austin Fire Department so that he or she can provide fresh perspective and recommendations to the department as it moves forward. This will also allow those in the department possibly interested in becoming the next chief to do all the requisite steps — like testing and interviewing — without being burdened with extra job duties during the process.

An interim chief will likely be someone who’s worked in fire departments for many years and possibly even served as an interim before.

“Right now, I’d imagine we’ll interview people with lots of experience,” commission chair James Cavanaugh said.

The interim chief candidates won’t, however, be put through the exact same type of testing as those interested in becoming chief. The commission will have chief candidates pass physicals and take written tests — those interested in the interim spot will only be interviewed.

“I think that’s fine,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m comfortable with doing that on an interim basis.”

Austin firefighter Tom Schulte said after Monday’s meeting that he is OK with the process, but he wishes it could have started sooner. If that was the case, Schulte said, the city could have possibly had an interim lined up already.

But Schulte said he knows Lovik will do well for however long he’s in the position.

“Brian’s been my only commander for the last two-and-a-half years,” Schulte said. “He’ll do a fine job.”

When the city is ready to select a new chief, Schulte said he wants to see someone with people skills, flexibility and the capacity to direct people when a situation calls for it.

“That’s what you’re always looking for in a good boss,” the firefighter said.