The Snowmass fire board is taking steps to address simmering issues that led to three firefighters quitting earlier this year and the resignation of the town’s fire chief in early August.
Among the fire board’s considerations are hiring a consultant group to help resolve some workplace issues and establishing a better line of communication at the department.
They also are seeking a replacement for Steve Sowles, who left his post as chief on Aug. 3. So far, the fire district has received 18 applications for fire chief and has narrowed down the list of applicants to 30 for the three open firefighter positions, Interim Chief John Mele told the board during its regular meeting Wednesday.
The issues with Sowles led the board to call a meeting with the firefighters last month. At that meeting, on July 31 — just days before Sowles’ exit — board members Brian Olson and Bill Boineau met with 14 firefighters about their concerns. The firefighters already had been interviewed individually in the spring after two of them filed grievances regarding Sowles’ management style. At Wednesday’s meeting, board members said the July discussion with firefighters was positive.
“From my perspective, I think it was a really good interaction between the firefighters and the two board members,” Mele told the board.
“It just really plants a seed and is that first step for building solid relationships, and (I) hope we can continue to move forward,” Olson said.
Boineau, also board president, noted that the meeting might have come a little too late.
“I think the downside was we probably took too long to have that meeting,” he said.
Meanwhile, two consultants — Caroline Fisher of Fisher Consulting Group and Louie Allenbach of Allenbach and Associates — made presentations to the board at this week’s meeting. The two consulting groups are in the running to be hired by the fire district.
Fisher said she and Olson began discussing the district’s situation in March and that they decided she should come meet with the board. Olson reminded Fisher that the district was seeking new leadership and that there he wanted to make some improvements whether or not a new chief is in place.
“We still need to provide a communication pathway that didn’t really exist in the past,” Olson said.
Olson said he wants the board, district leadership and firefighters to feel “part of the same team.”
“That’s what’s been missing,” he said.
Both consultants offered ways to help in the search for a new chief, too.
The board asked the consultants to continue discussing their proposals with Mele. Cost will be a consideration, Olson said.