Consultant assesses fire chief position

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— Kevin Klein, with Public Safety Consultants in Boulder, has been hired to determine if the Oak Creek Fire Protection District needs a paid fire chief.

The district board decided to hire Klein at its last meeting in mid-December. Board members first considered hiring a consultant after Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup proposed the board to pay him as part-time fire chief. He believed the responsibilities and hours of the position had grown, justifying hiring someone for the job.

Board member Steve Jones said Klein is contracted to present his findings in March and will be paid up to $5,000 for the job. Until then, Wisecup will be paid $500 a month for his services as fire chief, an increase from $200 a month.

"Basically, this is to determine whether or not we have the need and resources to hire a paid chief," Jones said of the decision to hire the consultant.

Klein has been consulting for five years. Before that, he received his master's degree in public administration from Harvard University.

Interestingly enough, Klein's experience with firefighting comes from the Cherry Vale Fire Protection District, in eastern Boulder County, which was a similar size as Oak Creek's district. He began as a volunteer and ended up as the first paid fire chief in the district.

"I'm familiar with this situation (in Oak Creek)," Klein said. "I came from a department that was very small with volunteer firefighters only and watched it grow to have full-time employees and coverage 24 (hours a day) and 7 (days a week)."

In fact, fire protection districts assessing the need for paid personnel is common, he said.

"All around the country, fire departments are making these kinds of the decisions," Klein said.

Most recently, Klein worked with the fire department in Kremmling, which considered the same move as Oak Creek.

"They are going to have a full-time person, but they don't know what the job description is going to be," Klein said.

But whether Oak Creek needs to make the same move has yet to be determined.

"Right now, I have no clue what Oak Creek needs," Klein said. "I haven't even met these guys yet."

When he does, Klein will study the district, determine what level of service is needed in the community and what service the fire department is able to provide. From there, he'll have a good idea if a paid fire chief is needed and whether the position should be full or part time.

If Klein makes the recommendation in March to hire someone, the next question would be how the district can pay for the position, Jones said.

The district will get $115,000 in revenues in 2001 from property taxes. It will probably spend that same amount to maintain the fire and Emergency Medical Service, Jones said. Also, the district has $72,000 in reserves.

The district board and Wisecup had thrown around a $24,000-a-year figure with benefits to pay for a part-time chief. Initially, paying that salary would come out of reserves, but there are opportunities for the district to boost its budget for the future, Jones said.

For example, the district more than doubled the fees for its ambulance services in August.

For years, a $75 base fee and a $1 per mile in the district fee and a $2 per mile out of district fee were the charges for transporting a patient. Now, it costs $200 for the base fee, $300 if there is advanced life-support and $2 per mile in the district and $4 per mile out of the district.

"That's still low compared to other places around the state," said Rich Coleman, EMS division chief in Oak Creek.

The EMS division also will start billing through Medicare for some patients, which has a rate schedule that pays more in some cases than what Oak Creek charges, Coleman said.

He expects the changes will double the amount of money the division generates.

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