City close to naming new fire chief

Six finalists interviewed, choice expected in next month or so
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city expects to have a new fire chief named within the next month or so, if not sooner.

The Police and Fire Commission conducted interviews last week with six finalists selected from a field of 18 applicants to replace recently-retired Fire Chief Ron Nicolaus.

“I think the goal was to have someone selected by the end of January and, based on the person selected, then determine a start date,” City Administrator Brian Yerges said of the commission’s timetable.

“The question is whether we can do all the (commission) meetings and the background and reference checks the commission would like. I would expect to have someone named for sure in February if we do not hire in January,” Yerges added.

The commission has not decided whether it wants to conduct a second round of interviews with any or all of the finalists, according to Yerges.

The six finalists include two current Plymouth Fire Department members – Denis Fellows and Jim Flanagan – and four others: Robert Kiser of DePere; Gary Lindow of Kohler; James Larsen of Hampshire, Ill.; and Robert L. Wirtz Jr. of Yorkville, Ill.

Kiser is the fire chief in DePere, while Lindow is the deputy chief and training offi cer for the Kohler Fire Department.

Larsen is a contract instructor at the United States Fire Administration-National Fire Academy in Chicago and Wirtz is a battalion chief with the Aurora, Ill., Fire Department.

Nicolaus, a member of the Plymouth Fire Department for 50 years and fire chief for the last 34, retired at the end of 2014.

The Police and Fire Commission began the process of filling the position last fall when it approved a job description and requirements and authorized advertising for applicants.

It also added director of public safety duties to the police chief position, with the responsibility to “review work for program effectiveness and assist with overall personnel management including, when required, disciplinary actions,” for the fire department.

“The fire chief still has full control over the day-to-day operations of the department. He will do the running of the fire department,” Yerges told commission members at that time.

At the Plymouth Town Board’s meeting earlier this month, Supervisor Ray Gremminger raised concerns over the town’s input into the hiring of a new fire chief for the department, which provides fire protection for the both the city and the town of Plymouth, with facilities and equipment in both the city and the town.

“I’m kind of bothered that, since we pay one-third of the budget for that department, we should have one-third of the input when they hire or fire somebody,” Gremminger stated.

“I feel as a taxpayer and supervisor that we should have a say in what goes on,” he continued.

Plymouth Police Chief/Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Tauscheck told the Town Board that all of the applicants for the position were aware that the department provides service to both the city and the town.

State law allows for villages to create a joint fire commission where it shares a joint fire department with a neighboring community, but there is no similar provision for city police and fire commissions.

But, Yerges pointed out, the Plymouth Fire Department is not a joint city/town fire department, but is a department of the city and contracts with the town to provide fire protection service there.

“Over the years it has kind of acted as a joint department at times, but technically it is a department of the city,” Yerges stated.

That status was formalized in an agreement approved by both the City Council and the Town Board last year, he added.

“Everything we are doing is consistent with that agreement,” Yerges asserted.

The city administrator also defended the city’s timetable for filling the fire chief position.

City officials had come under fire for not beginning the process until late last fall, when Nicolaus’ intention to retire at the end of 2014 had been known for some time.

However, Yerges pointed out, the official retirement paperwork was not submitted until last September, after which the commission and city officials began the process of selecting a new chief.

“I can’t remember one instance where we started the recruitment process before a person left (their job) and filled the position before the (previous) person left,” Yerges said.

The Police and Fire Commission has authority to appoint an interim chief, but Yerges said they felt it was not necessary in this case.

The department’s two assistant chiefs, Fellows and Rory Beebe, are overseeing department operations until a new chief is hired, Tauscheck told the Town Board.

“Ron’s still in the community,” Yerges pointed out.

“When a new fire chief is selected, he will want to sit down with Ron and get his views and perspective. We realize that whoever comes in, no matter who that is, they are going to be different than Ron,” Yerges concluded.

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