WALDPORT — The News-Times learned this week that in mid December, Gary Woodson, Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue fire chief, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Erich Knudson, the department’s public information officer and facility engineer, told the News-Times on Thursday morning that Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Mason is currently acting as the department’s interim fire chief, and that further information regarding why the district’s board placed Woodson on leave would be available in the near future.
“The only thing that I can say right now is that yes, (Woodson) has been placed on administrative leave, and that’s a non-disciplinary leave currently,” Knudson said. “That’s going to remain through the pending conclusion of an investigation, but he’s not on a disciplinary leave currently.”
Knudson further explained that once that internal investigation concludes, the district’s board will probably meet in an executive session — most likely to occur early next week prior to the district’s scheduled Thursday, Jan. 21 board of directors meeting.
Though the physical setting of next Thursday’s board of directors’ meeting had not been set as of the News-Times’ press deadline, Knudson confirmed the meeting will be available to watch live online at the Information Station’s YouTube page, located at https://bit.ly/2XFItS2. Meeting viewers may submit public comments or questions via email to Information Station at [email protected] Questions will be relayed to the board members and answered at the end of the meeting.
Multiple voicemail messages left for the fire district board of directors president, Tim Grady, seeking comment on Woodson’s status went unreturned prior to the News-Times’ print deadline.
Woodson’s fire and rescue administrative career in Oregon has been marred with controversy. He abruptly resigned in the spring of 2014 as chief of the Pendleton Fire Department after serving in that capacity for fewer than four years. Woodson, who came to Pendleton from his native Missouri, worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections prior to being hired as chief at Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue.
Woodson began serving in his current position in March 2018. In October 2019, the district’s volunteer medical director, Dr. Joshua Cook, an emergency medicine facilitator at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport, resigned.
“For a number of reasons that I have disclosed to the board, I choose to no longer support the EMS leadership,” Cook told the News-Times in late September 2019. “It is not in my purview to disclose the ongoing discussion that I have had with their board and EMS leadership.”
Cook did not return an early Thursday afternoon phone message seeking to clarify his comments prior to deadline.
The Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue District serves the city of Waldport and the Tidewater and Five Rivers communities. In November, district voters backed a renewal of Central Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue’s property tax levy, which was set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 tax year. The fire district estimates it earns about 90 percent of its revenue from property tax collection, and that passage of the measure will earn the district more than $500,000 in 2021-22 and more than $564,000 in 2025-26.
For further information or questions, visit Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue’s website at www.centralcoastfire.net or call the department at 541-563-3121.