Fire chief candidates narrowed to three

Published 7:09 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The city of Austin has whittled its list of candidates for fire chief down to three — and none of the finalists currently work in the local fire department.

In fact, no current Austin firefighters were among the 17 who filed applications to replace former chief Dan Wilson, city administrator Jim Hurm said.

The three, who were certified by the Austin Fire Civil Service Commission Tuesday, instead hail from Michigan, Wyoming and Stewartville, Minn.

Hurm said the young Austin fire department would be well-served by an experienced, outside hire who could bring in new ideas.

“I think it will be great for the fire department,” he said.

Topping the list of candidates provided by the commission is Edward Schwaedall, who currently works as a division chief with the Campbell County Fire Department in Wyoming but has also spent time as a fire chief in Shakopee, Minn. He has roughly 17 years of overall experience.

His ranking on top of the list was determined by a composite score that factored in test results, an administrative exercise and a sit-down interview.

Following Schwaedall on the list are Michael Healey, a 17-year veteran who currently works as a firefighter in Portage, Mich., and Jarrod Wellik, an assistant fire chief in Stewartville who has been in the fire service for roughly 20 years.

However, the current rankings are not binding, and there is still plenty of work to be done before a new chief is hired.

Immediately following the commission’s Tuesday meeting, the fire service committee of City Council — composed of council members Jeff Austin, Steve King and Dick Pacholl — met to begin their own review of the candidates. That committee will ultimately conduct their own interviews and will make a final recommendation to the full council for approval.

Hurm said while the commission’s results will factor in, the committee will consider multiple factors, including input from David Schliek, who recently concluded his stay as the city’s interim fire chief and issued a report on the way out.

The three finalists will also go through background checks, which could take a week or two to complete. Given that step, as well as everything else still to be done, Hurm said mid-April or later is likely when council will approve a name and offer a job. Add on two weeks — at least — for relocating and notifying a current employer, and a new chief could be starting in early-May, the administrator said.

Hurm said local firefighters have by-and-large been happy with the process and the timetable that has come with it.

“They seem generally pleased and are looking forward to (a new chief),” he said.

Calls to local firefighter union president Chris Grunewald were not returned by press time.