Fire district staff backs interim chief

A Tuesday evening workshop was held by the Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue District Board of Directors to discuss options for replacing fired former Chief Gary Woodson. The board heard strong support from district staff to make Interim Chief Jamie Mason the permanent fire chief. (Photo by Michael Heinbach)

Board discusses options moving forward

WALDPORT — A hastily called Tuesday evening workshop hosted by the Central Oregon Coast Fire & Rescue District Board of Directors was intended as a discussion of options to move forward after it formally terminated the employment of Chief Gary Woodson. What resulted was an overwhelming show of support from staff and district volunteers for Interim Chief Jamie Mason to fill that role on a permanent basis.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the five-member board decided to proceed with a formal interview and background check of Mason before potentially opening up the hiring process to others. Mason appears to be the board’s top choice as administrative head of the department. 

During the approximately 40-minute meeting held in the Waldport City Council Chambers, all current paid Central Coast staff members spoke glowingly of working under Mason. Facilities engineer and public information officer Erich Knudson, and shift lieutenants Jo Bartling and Shi Bucher read from prepared statements in person. Bucher read a letter penned by Lt. Cody Johnson. 

Each of their statements praised Mason’s leadership abilities and requested the board forego an oftentimes lengthy and expensive hiring process and promote Mason to full-time fire chief.

The five-member Central Coast board, composed of President Tim Grady, Vice President Kevin Battles, Treasurer Dave Brooks, Secretary Reda Ackerman and Peter Carlich also heard backing for Mason from a handful of volunteers — district Chaplain Rick Booth, Seal Rock Rural Fire Protection District board member Larry Henson and Seal Rock firefighter John Townley.

Prior to staff presentations, Carlich made it clear that he wishes to bypass hiring a recruiting firm at a cost of upwards of $3,000, and to promote Mason, who came to the district a little more than a year ago from North Lincoln Fire, where he worked for eight years. Mason earned North Lincoln Fire’s 2018 Firefighter of the Year award. 

When Knudson took to the podium to address the Central Coast board, he acknowledged having sent an email to paid staff and volunteers, seeking their opinions on how the district should proceed in replacing Woodson, who was terminated during the weekend after spending more than a month on paid administrative leave.

 “I think the board of directors should make Chief Mason our current district’s permanent chief,” he said. “Over the last year, he has been one to inspire, empower and improve this district several times over. He has been running this district, as our previous chief was only available about 40 percent of the time.”

Bucher began his statement stating he was speaking on behalf of the Central Coast chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters union. “The members of Central Coast professional Firefighters of Local 4619 wish to express their unwavering support for keeping the leadership currently in place at Central Coast,” he said. He stated further that, “there is already a very capable and qualified assistant chief that is the best candidate for the job. The union feels that going through a separate hiring process would be doing a disservice to the taxpayers of this community, which we wholeheartedly serve and protect.”

After staff presentations, Carlich reiterated his preference for promoting Mason.

“Look at all of the people who have stepped up and said all these great things about Assistant Chief Mason,” Carlich said. “Just look at how many people have stepped up. When have we ever seen anything like this in the past? This is an outpouring from every source — the union, the members, the public, Seal Rock … we’ve never had that before.”

Battles, hoping to avoid a similar departure from the district chief down the road, pulled on the reins slightly, and insisted the board perform its due diligence with Mason before just handing him the chief’s job.

“I would just be in favor of going through the process … interviewing, background checks, that kind of thing just to make sure we are making the right decision, not just on behalf off the fire department, but we also have to think on behalf of the community as a whole and all the taxpayers,” Battles said. 

Brooks followed with a formal invitation for Mason to apply to be the district’s new fire chief.

“We have this position open now, Jamie, and we would like you to apply,” Brooks said. “So at this particular point, you’re our only applicant.”

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