Camas narrows fire chief search down to final two

Finalists are from Brush Prairie and South Dakota

Two top finalists are in the running to become the new leader of the Camas Fire Department.

Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Higgins met with Scott Sorenson, current deputy chief of Clark County Fire District 3, and Dominick Swinhart, current chief of the Watertown, S.D. fire department on Thursday for final interviews.

The two were selected from a list of five finalists for the position. They went through what City Administrator Lloyd Halverson described as an “extensive” interview process last Tuesday and Wednesday. The process included a community open house event, two panel interviews, city tours, lunch with CFD employees, and dinner with City Council.

Members of the interview panels included Halverson and Higgins, as well as Monte Brachmann, interim Camas fire chief; Jennifer Gorsuch, Camas human resources director; Mitch Lackey, Camas police chief; Michael Coyle, Camas firefighter/paramedic; David Scott, Washougal city administrator; Mike Nerland, Camas School District superintendent; Mark Ervin, Camas battalion chief; Jeanette Cefalo, Washougal human resources director; Tyler McMahon, president of the Washougal volunteer firefighters; Jim Short, WaferTech facilities and operations director; Daryl McDaniel, Longview fire chief; and Camas Councilmen Greg Anderson and Don Chaney.

Halverson said Monday that an offer could be made to either Sorenson or Swinhart by the end of this week.

Swinhart has led the Watertown Fire Department since 2009. Prior to that, he worked for the Aberdeen Fire Department in Aberdeen, Wash., from 1994 to 2009, during which time he served as a paramedic, firefighter, acting captain and was part of its arson investigation team. He has also worked in emergency services for the Raymond, Wash., fire department, Thurston County Fire District 9 in Olympia, Wash., and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Swinhart earned an associate’s degree in emergency medical services in 1992 from Tacoma Community College, and a bachelor’s degree in EMS management from George Washington University in Washington D.C. in 2008.

His list of accomplishments include serving as a member of the Montesano [Wash.] City Council from 2007 to 2009, during which time he led consolidation discussions involving eight fire departments.

Sorenson began his fire and EMS service career in 1979 while still in high school as a volunteer for Clark County Fire District 3, 10 and North County EMS. He has served as deputy chief of Clark County Fire District 3 since 1998, and over the years was also served as a division chief, captain, lieutenant and firefighter.

Sorenson earned a master’s degree in management and organization leadership and a bachelor’s in business administration from Warner Pacific College, in 2010 and 2008, respectively, and an associate of applied science in fire protection technology from Portland Community College in 1989.

A total of 80 applications were received for the open position, which pays $97,000 to $120,000 annually, plus benefits. The field was initially narrowed to the top 15, and then five were brought in for interviews.

Other candidates who participated in last week’s interview process included David Nelson, fire chief of the South Lane County Fire District in Cottage Grove, Ore.; Sam Phillips, deputy chief of the Hillsboro Fire Department in Hillsboro, Ore.; and Dan Stolinski, assistant chief with the Omaha Fire Department in Omaha, Neb.

Former Chief Leo Leon was fired in January because of what Mayor Paul Dennis described as Leon’s leadership not meeting expectations. Since then Brachmann, a retired Camas public works director, has been serving as the interim chief at a salary of approximately $9,000 per month.

The CFD operates with a staff of 41 firefighters and paramedics who provide emergency medical services to residents within 104 square miles in the cities of Camas and Washougal, and unincorporated east Clark County.

Officials have said with a new chief they hope to bring a fresh perspective to local fire and emergency medical services. According to the job description, the ideal candidate would “be eager to look for new opportunities to create positive changes in the structure and management of the department.”

The document also states that among the new chief’s priorities will be the “creation and implementation of a new strategic plan,” “consideration of partnerships with other jurisdictions to create consolidated fire services,” “stabilization of the current EMS budget,” and “work to understand the current organization, operations, culture and structure to implement changes and new delivery methods that enhance efficiency within current budgetary constraints.”

Camas is currently in the throes of discussions with the City of Washougal about pursuing a trial functional operational consolidation of the fire departments, with the potential of someday implementing a full merger.