Commission recommends council hire interim fire chief candidate

Published 6:44 am Thursday, January 21, 2010

If city council approves, David Schliek will be the fire department’s interim chief.

Schliek, who currently chairs the Minnesota Fire Service Certification Board and works as a pipe fitter out of Detroit Lakes, Minn., interviewed with the Austin Fire Civil Service Commission Wednesday. The three-member panel then decided to recommend that council hire him as interim chief, which could happen at the council’s next meeting on Feb. 1.

“He has a lot of experience and common sense,” commission member Jim Cavanaugh said.

Schliek started as a firefighter in Crosslake, Minn., in 1982, before becoming a training officer in 1984. In 1988, he was elected chief of the city’s fire department, a position he held for a year. He was elected chief again in 1992 and spent another two years in that role.

Schliek has also served on a number of different fire associations through the years, and he became chairman of the MFSCB in 2008.

In addition to his current involvement with the firefighting industry, Schliek also has an extensive mechanical background and has spent time in managerial roles in the field.

He said after his interview that his experience in management has taught him to always see both sides of an issue, something he said he’d bring to the Austin Fire Department.

And he said he welcomed the challenge of dealing with the AFD, a department that recently wrapped up a drawn-out contract dispute with the city and saw one of its firefighters file a complaint against former chief Dan Wilson in September.

“We can start anew,” Schliek said.

However, if hired, Schliek won’t have much time to restart the AFD — by state law, an interim hire can only remain in place for 30 days.

City officials who have supported the idea of having an interim chief say it will give the department a good outside perspective. They also think it will help commander Brian Lovik, who has been covering as chief since Wilson retired Dec. 31 and putting in more hours as a result.

On Tuesday, council voted to allocate up to $10,000 to a consulting firm, Wisconsin-based RW Management, to find a suitable interim chief and arrange for him or her to get to Austin.

That firm did in fact find Schliek, and any contract the city does decide to offer will go through RW Management.

Some city firefighters expressed concern Tuesday over the $10,000 price tag, but city administrator Jim Hurm said it’s roughly the same as what a full-time chief would get in a month, including benefits.

On Wednesday, several firefighters in attendance were a little more supportive of the potential hire.

Firefighter Troy Tigner, who said he still had some concerns with spending $10,000 during a rough economic time, said the department would ultimately welcome Schliek.

“I think we’ll do our best to work with him,” Tigner said. “He seemed even keel.”

Fellow firefighter Tom Schulte said Schliek interviewed really well. Schulte also praised Schliek’s educational background, which includes two master’s degrees, and said it doesn’t matter that Schliek hasn’t worked hands-on with firefighting equipment in recent years.

“We’re the brawn,” Schulte said of himself and other firefighters at the department. “We need the brain.”