Isle City Clerk Jamie Hubbell has informed the Messenger that fire chief David Miller has submitted a letter of resignation. This letter follows controversy that sprung up following Miller’s usual report at the February City Council meeting. At that time, Miller spoke briefly on a vote that had transpired amongst his department at their last meeting, regarding his position as fire chief. When the vote concluded, Miller explained, the department had selected firefighter Jason Amundson as chief. However, Mayor Rodney Schultz instead re-affirmed Miller’s position. This decision has left members of the fire department confused, as they believed their bylaws allowed them to elect their chief. The Messenger has spoken with members of the fire department, the city and looked into the department bylaws to answer the question: Who gets to select the Isle Fire Department Chief?
At the February meeting, Miller stated that it was not in his department’s standard operating guidelines to elect a chief each year, but he and co-chief Tim Schug had come across the idea at a chief’s meeting held in Princeton. “I know people had some questions and concerns over what I’ve done,” so I brought up at the meeting that we could vote on chiefs,” Miller said.
“Number one, you guys don’t have the right to do that,” Schultz responded to Miller at the meeting. “It’s not in your bylaws. So far as I’m concerned, you and Tim are still co-chiefs.” Schultz also stated that if Miller were to resign, the process of filling his position would be done by the council, not the department.
Standard Operating Guidelines
In the Isle Fire Department’s standard operating guidelines, Article IV,
elections, states that nominations for the position of fire chief will be taken annually at the department’s January meeting. Further nominations can be made at the February meeting. The election will be held at the February meeting and will be conducted by a secret ballot of the majority of the members present. Elected officials will serve a year-long term.
Article IV also notes that in the case of an officer’s vacancy, the department will hold a ballot to replace that officer within the next two months, taking nominations and holding a secret ballot.
Statements from the fire department
Multiple other members of the Isle Fire Department have spoken with the Messenger regarding their understanding of the fire chief selection process and their frustration with how that process has been handled. All firefighters requested to remain anonymous.
“I thought this was all done kind of poorly,” said one member of the department. “We thought we took the right steps, but we never got an answer for why [Amundson’s appointment] didn’t happen.” This member stated their belief that the fire chief should be the department’s choice. “We found Amundson fit for the job,” he explained. “The only reason for this happening that we got is Schultz doesn’t know [Amundson], and that isn’t a good reason.” This member said that he didn’t want to detract from the job being done by the current co-chiefs but felt Amundson’s 14 years of experience at a larger department would serve Isle well.
“From a personal standpoint,” I’m not too pleased with the city,” another member said. “The fire chief is the one telling us what we’re doing and how we’re doing.” He pointed to the work Amundson had done in pushing for updated equipment as an example of how he advocated for the department. “As a department, we were voting for change,” one member said. “For the city to come back and say this isn’t happening, that’s very frustrating … It’s been a frustrating couple of months.”
Ordinances and bylaws
Speaking with city clerk Jamie Hubbell, the Messenger was informed that much of the confusion regarding this issue has arisen from how out of date the fire department’s bylaws are. While there are bylaws regarding officer election, they are superseded by a City Ordinance Title III, chapter 31.20, stating the chief is appointed by the council. The council does take the department’s vote into consideration when appointing the chief, she added. Hubbell noted that no member of the council was familiar with Amundson, neither chief had given their resignation, nor could they give their heartfelt recommendation to appoint Amundson. These factors influenced Schultz’ decision at the February meeting.
Since that meeting, Hubbell, along with Ginger Houle and Don Dahlen, the council’s fire department liaisons, have met and interviewed Amundson to learn about his firefighting history and his plans as chief. “He had many great experiences that he shared,” Hubbell stated, “and also discussed some great ideas that he wants to bring to the department.” At this meeting, it was agreed that Amundson would job shadow the current chiefs for a period of six months to a year. This period would give him an opportunity to get to know the community as well as complete training to renew his license with the state licensing board. If the department were to re-elect him as chief at that time, the council would consider him for the position, Hubbell said.
Jason Amundson brings excellent experience and new management plans to the department that we are looking forward to his promotion as Chief,” Hubbell concluded. “The city must be prudent in this process to make sure that they are doing what is best for the future of the department as a whole.”
Who is Jason Amundson?
Isle firefighter Jason Amundson explained his firefighting background to the Messenger. He has previously had 14 years of experience working at a larger fire department, which included four stations and 93 firefighters. He also currently works in the fire alarm industry and has built familiarity with National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) codes.
Given his familiarity with these codes, Amundson has helped the department spearhead a push to replace its aging personal protection equipment. Under NFPA guidelines state such equipment has a 10-year limit on its use for structure firefighting. Some of the department’s current gear dates back to 1994.
“I didn’t come [to Isle] with expectations of being in another fire department or to be fire chief,” Amundson said. But while living in the community, the need for more experienced firefighters was brought to his attention. He was also asked by members of the department to pursue the position due to his background coming from a larger department. “[Isle’s firefighters] felt I could make this department bigger, better and stronger,” he said. “I agreed, but I also told them that if I’m doing this, I’m not doing this alone. I will hold people accountable toward seeing that come true.”
“I don’t want this to be about me,” he said. “... This isn’t about who’s the chief. It’s about getting the fire department better structure, more training and more discipline.” That discipline would not just be good for the firefighters, he said, but also the community they protect.