Veteran firefighter Clapper takes over as Aspen’s chief
September 8, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department elected Willard Clapper Jr., a longtime volunteer firefighter, as its new fire chief Wednesday evening.
The vote decided the race between two candidates: Clapper and the acting fire chief, Rick Balentine, and was the first since the election of Darryl Grob in 1994. Grob resigned in November 2010.
“As someone who loves this department as it is,” Clapper said, “I want to solidify a sense of pride we’ve always had.”
Clapper comes from a line of firefighters. The bell in front of the firehouse is a memorial to his father, a former Aspen fire chief who died five years ago.
As Clapper addressed the volunteers before the vote on the third floor of the Aspen fire station, he said, “It’s time we test the waters of the new volunteer chief, and we are in a place and time where this is a good thing to do.”
Jack Simmons, a firefighter and the fire district’s board president, said the new chief will handle most of the operational tasks, including directing emergency calls and coordinating volunteers.
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Clapper will take over immediately.
Balentine has worked with the department for 22 years and Clapper for 32 years.
“He’s a tireless worker and a great firefighter,” Clapper said of Balentine.
Clapper said the internal conversation leading up to the election was about whether the fire chief’s position should be paid. Both nominees agreed that the position should be unpaid, a change that came after Grob’s resignation.
“I believe that this should be a volunteer fire department, should remain a volunteer fire department, and that includes the chief,” Balentine said.
Clapper said the vote did not happen until Wednesday night because they were still discussing the position’s job description. The position is usually voted on in January.
The vote took place behind closed doors, and the final vote count was not available.
Aspen Fire Department chaplain Roy Holloway encouraged the volunteers before the announcement of the new chief, saying the volunteers should “support (the fire chief) in every way we can, whether it’s the person we voted for or not.”