Austin welcomes interim fire chief

Published 6:49 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Tuesday, David Schliek started his new job. In 30 days, he’ll be done with his new job.

Such is life for Austin’s new interim fire chief.

Schliek, who currently chairs the Minnesota Fire Service Certification Board, 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.

He said Tuesday he was excited for the new opportunity in Austin, even if it will be brief.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting.”

The city decided to go with an interim chief following Dan Wilson’s December retirement because officials felt it would bring a good, outside perspective to a department that has dealt with its share of controversy lately.

As such, Schliek has been asked to give a report to city council when his time is up. By Minnesota law, his time has to be up after a month.

For that short time, Schliek will be living at a local apartment in town, while his wife and family remain in Crosby, Minn.

He said he will work hard to learn the ins and outs of the department quickly so he can put together a good report. So far, he said he was impressed with what he’s seen.

“Looks like they have a real nice facility,” Schliek said. “(And) these folks have treated me very professionally.”

But there will be some things for Schliek to adjust to. For one, his staff in Crosslake was made up entirely of volunteers; in Austin, the department consists of both full-time firefighters and volunteers.

He said both groups represent different “cultures,” but he’s confident he can make them mesh.

Schliek will also be dealing with a department that saw former chief Wilson investigated by the city recently over allegations of creating a hostile workplace. This came not long after a protracted contract dispute with the city ended after two years of tough negotiations.

The new interim chief said if there were any lingering tensions from those incidents, he hadn’t noticed them so far. Ultimately, Schliek said he sees a positive, albeit short, relationship between himself and Austin firefighters.

“There are certainly some opportunities here,” he said. “We can start a new path for these folks.”