It has been a year of change, adjustment and, at times, turmoil at East County Fire and Rescue. The path ahead for the rural fire district, while certainly not likely to be without its bumps, looks to at least be on a more solid foundation than what has been experienced in recent history.
In late 2014, tension among members of the ECFR Commission was palpable and finally reached its breaking point. Between October 2014 and January 2015, three longtime commissioners resigned their seats. In December 2014, shrinking revenue sources and the sunset of a grant led to the elimination of three firefighter positions. The most pivotal moment for the district may have come in January 2015, when three members of the board voted to terminate Chief Scott Koehler’s contract.
At that time, Commission Chairwoman Martha Martin vowed that the district would go in a “new direction with new leadership.” And while this has no doubt been a challenging year for ECFR’s elected leaders, as well as its volunteers and paid firefighters and staff, the district has been trudging its way toward both of those goals.
All three of the previously eliminated firefighter positions have now been re-filled, allowing two of the ECFR stations to once again be staffed 24-hours-a-day. The district has completed a strategic plan. The budget has seen a significant revenue increase, allowing the opportunity for some money to be set aside in reserve.
One of the final pieces of the puzzle will be the successful completion of the effort to hire a permanent chief. ECFR has retained the services of an executive search firm to lead this process, the results of which could be one of the most critical appointments that commissioners have made in recent memory.
This new chief, expected to be hired in February, will handle administration and operations duties. He or she will be working with elected commissioners and rank-and-file firefighters, as well as volunteers. As the past has shown, this can be a very difficult balance. Finding the right person to fill this multi-faceted role will be absolutely critical.
With careful and thorough consideration, input from employees, volunteers, and the community playing an important role, the current five-member board appears to be up for the challenge.