Community Alert

(Updated at 1:15 p.m. to add comments from Fire Chief Gerry Franek and at 3:15 p.m. to add details on interview panel)

The Northfield Fire Department is taking a new approach on how it appoints its leaders.

The department will now be accepting applications internally for several leadership positions, which were previously assigned by the fire chief, said Public Safety Director Mark Taylor.

“The people that are in those positions will continue in them until this process is completed,” Taylor said. “[They] have the right to apply for those positions, but it doesn’t guarantee that they would end up in those positions.”

That means the two assistant fire chiefs, Tom Nelson and Jeff Machacek, and three captains, Mitch Dewar, TJ Heinricy and Tim McKeever, will have to apply for the positions they currently hold, Taylor said.

“They’re not being fired,” Taylor said. “It’s just that these positions need to be picked fairly.”

Previously, the department would elect a fire chief, and then the chief would be able to name their command staff, Taylor said.

With these changes, Taylor said everyone in the department will have a chance at the positions.

“It’s fair and competitive for the organization to have all of the members have the opportunity to go through a fair and competitive process,” Taylor said. “It’s not a negative reflection on the persons who are currently doing those jobs.”

Fire Chief Gerry Franek said the new application process is a good model for the department to follow in the future, such as when a firefighter retires or someone is let go for performance issues.

“To change the playing field...and have somebody have to go through all of those hoops to maintain their job, I don’t understand that,” Franek said. “I just don’t think it’s quite fair to the guys who have been doing a good job for many, many years.”

Exactly who will be on the oral interview panel, which will make the final decisions, has not been determined, Taylor said Thursday afternoon.

“Tentatively, it’s the fire chief, myself and probably one outside fire professional...just to get an outside perspective,” Taylor said. “That’s tentatively what we have discussed.”

Taylor said the new hiring process is part of several changes that have already been made within the department to address concerns that came up in a February 2011 Occupational Safety and Health Administration audit, a June 2011 outside consultant study and a 2012 Insurance Services Office study.

Changes include a new operations manual and examination of the Fire Department Relief Association, which faced scrutiny earlier this year.

The department recently implemented a new Standard Operating Procedure Manual that defines department functions, including the chain of command, which had not been specified before.

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117, and follow her on Twitter.com @NFNKaitlyn.

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117, and follow her on Twitter.com @NFNKaitlyn.

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