Snowmass fire district appoints interim chief |

Snowmass fire district appoints interim chief

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun

Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal John Mele will lead the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District on an interim basis while it searches for a new full-time chief.

The district board of directors made Mele’s appointment official during its meeting Tuesday, nearly a month after Chief Steve Sowles announced his resignation. Sowles’ last day is Aug. 3. The district has not published a job posting yet.

The district will conduct a local and national search to find Sowles’ replacement, according to a statement it released Thursday.

“We’re not going to rush into it, but we are going to diligently try to find someone that can fill this position,” said board President Bill Boineau. “It is one of those kinds of positions that sometimes it’s hard to find someone who understands mountain communities, resort communities, all those kinds of things that come along with it. … I don’t think we’re going to take our time, no. It’s going to be a priority.”

Mele is not seeking to remain in the chief’s position, Boineau said.

“He’s the fire marshal, and that’s what he wants to be doing,” Boineau said. “He’s really not interested in being the fire chief.”

The board passed a resolution of appreciation for Sowles on Tuesday, according to the statement. Sowles served as fire chief for seven years. During his tenure, he led the implementation of a strategic plan, which the district had not done since the early 1970s, and he enhanced equipment and made more training opportunities available for firefighters, according to the statement.

“Chief Sowles has led our fire department to new levels of professionalism that will help keep emergency services in Snowmass Village and our surrounding fire district strong and secure for many years to come,” Mele said. “With the help of the entire fire department, I look forward to leading the way in providing the same excellent emergency services to our community that they have come to expect from our organization.”

Boineau and board member Brian Olson will meet with firefighters Wednesday to discuss their findings after individual meetings this spring. Olson and Boineau met with firefighters to discuss their concerns after the filing of two grievances regarding Sowles’ management.

The grievances requested that a third-party mediator be present for discussions with the board, which has been considering an outside consultant group to facilitate team-building exercises, not act as mediator, but no facilitator will be present at the July 31 meeting.

“Probably at the next board meeting we’re going to interview one or more consultant groups,” Boineau said. He added that board members had already talked to some others, as well.

As for the discovery of some soil contamination on the district’s property, Boineau said the Environmental Protection Agency, which was investigating its drainage system, has approved the board’s plan to remove the soil.

“We’ve got some more work to do at the back of the firehouse in a similar area — we’ve got some earth settling and stuff like that,” Boineau said. “And so I think we’re going to try and do that all in one project.”