Climate at fire department better than a year ago |

Climate at fire department better than a year ago

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun

Tensions have settled at the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District since a year ago, when firefighters were filing complaints against their chief, according to personnel and department leadership.

In early 2013, two complaints were filed with the district board of directors regarding Chief Steve Sowles’ leadership. Sowles has since resigned, and the district has been working with a consulting group that coordinated conferences for the staff and the board in December.

“I think things are definitely better,” said John Mele, who has been serving as chief on an interim basis. “Like anything worthwhile, it’s going to take more attention. We’ve all learned more about everyone and how to communicate to everyone.”

Mele and the other district staff members took part in a two-day “breakthrough leadership conference” in December, led by Fisher Consulting Group.

“We all were in a room where we could face each other and talk about topics in a comfortable manner,” Mele said. “It was the first time all of us … focused on the fire department. What can we do as a team to make this fire department one of the best in Colorado?”

Firefighter Jake Andersen, who wrote several guest columns to this newspaper on behalf of the Snowmass firefighters union, also has said that things have improved.

The district board also went through a class.

“We spent some time trying to understand personalities and issues that have been going on,” said board President Bill Boineau. “It’s hard for me to see a benefit. It’s kind of hard spending taxpayers’ money on these kind of things. It is something we’ve got to balance.”

To Boineau, things at the district have improved largely because the leadership changed.

“It has come to a rolling boil instead of a raging boil,” he said of the morale at the department.

One of the topics covered in the staff conference was the vision for what the department should be.

“We do need to have the rank-and-file folks understand the motivation,” Boineau said. “A lot of it is communication and how you talk to everyone.”

The department has been working with the Basalt & Rural Fire Protection District on an agreement to share Basalt Chief Scott Thompson as a joint head. The Snowmass board approved an intergovernmental agreement at its regular meeting Jan. 21 but has not offered the position to Thompson yet.