South Dakota man will become new CFD chief

Dominick Swinhart will start July 5

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Nick Swinhart

The current chief of the Watertown, S.D. Fire Department has been selected to become the new leader of the Camas Fire Department.

It was announced on Friday that Dominick J. Swinhart was chosen from a pool of five top candidates who went through a recent in-person interview process in Camas. The field was narrowed to two by May 5 when Mayor Paul Dennis and Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Higgins interviewed Swinhart and Clark County Fire District 3 Deputy Chief Scott Sorenson.

Swinhart grew up in Montesano, Wash., and said he looks forward to returning to his home state.

“I was born and raised in Western Washington, so it’s a dream come true for my family and me to move back to the area where I was raised and lived most of my life,” he said. “But more importantly, I was pleased to find a fire department back in Washington that was looking for help in responding to some challenges that I feel are part of my expertise.”

The CFD, which employs 41 emergency response personnel who respond to approximately 3,000 calls per year, is currently in the throes of dealing with a $310,000 shortfall in its 2011 emergency medical services budget, and is in talks about entering a trial functional operational consolidation with the Washougal Fire Department, with the possibility of one day embarking on a full merger.

Higgins said he expects Swinhart to take the department in a positive direction.

“He is going to bring a great deal of energy to the fire department,” Higgins said. “He’s a really impressive guy.”

Since March 2009 Swinhart, 40, has led the 30-person unionized Watertown Fire Department, which serves a population of 25,000 by providing fire fighting, advanced life support ambulance, hazmat, and confined space and high angle rescue services.

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. He has also taken part in the National fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program.

He is the current president of the South Dakota Fire Chiefs Association, and he also served as a member of the Montesano City Council from 2007 to 2009, during which time he led consolidation discussions involving eight fire departments.

Swinhart said he his family, including wife Anna and 10-month-old daughter Anastasia, will be moving to Camas around the third week in June and he will begin his work as chief on July 5. He will be paid $8,738 per month, plus benefits.

Former Chief Leo Leon was fired in January. Since then Monte Brachmann has been serving as the interim chief.

The interview process, held May 3 and 4, included a community open house event, two panel interviews, city tours, lunch with members of the fire department and dinner with City Council.

A total of 80 applications were received for the open position.

“We gave a lot of consideration to this,” Higgins said, “and I’m confident that Chief Swinhart is especially well-fitted to lead the department, to innovate, and to help the community meet the challenges and realize the opportunities which lie ahead.”

Swinhart said he believes he is well suited to the task.

“That’s what I was looking for — a challenge.”

The selection of Swinhart by the mayor is expected to be confirmed by the Camas City Council during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 6, at City Hall.