The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District Board and Interim Fire Chief Frank Swedenborg agreed the district needs to find a permanent leader sooner rather than later during a special meeting Monday evening.
On Monday, he asked the board for direction. “I just need to find out what’s crucial, what has to happen,” he said. “My biggest concern is the betterment of the fire department and the firefighters.”
Former chief Mike Balzer was relieved of his duties in mid-October because of ongoing personnel issues, according to Board President Sharon Clyde.
At Monday’s special meeting, Swedenborg said he is willing to fill in as chief until March. There was discussion of bringing in an outside interim chief, perhaps a retired fire chief, to give the board more time to find a permanent leader, but Swedenborg said the department feels the instability of a second interim wouldn’t be for the best. “We don’t feel that’s the correct option,” he said. “I think that just mixes the pot for the firefighters.”
The owner of The Waves in Cannon Beach has served as Cannon Beach’s assistant fire chief for 18 years and as a volunteer firefighter for roughly 35.
“I felt it’s important to be a part of the community you live in and the fire department sounded like a good area,” Swedenborg said. “It was just a good fit for me.”
While Swedenborg said he enjoyed the camaraderie of the department, he is ready to retire and not looking to fill in permanently for the fire district. He now works three to four hours per day four days a week. Captain Matt Gardner has stepped up to help in daily operations.
The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District provides firefighting and emergency service to the North Coast communities of Cannon Beach, Arch Cape and Falcon Cove.
The fire chief also serves on the Emergency Preparedness Committee. Either Swedenborg or Gardner will take Balzer’s place on the committee on a temporary basis.
Swedenborg’s top priority is keeping firefighters on task until they get a new chief. After speaking with board members, he suggested the district care for the projects it has now before starting anything new in absence of a full-time leader.
Board member Linda Beck-Sweeney said most important is sustaining morale and ensuring general duties, such as maintaining important records for the fire district, are completed.
“I think that’s the big thing at this point is to keep it all moving,” she said.
She added that Swedenborg has “good rapport” with the firefighters.
Clyde said if there’s anything she can do to help, she’s willing to “jump in.”
The board is examining how to compensate Gardner and Swedenborg for their work. The district paid Balzer $36 an hour, roughly $72,000 a year. Gardner has been working 60-hour-plus weeks for awhile and is up for a contract renewal in March when he could receive a raise, board members said.
The board will likely make a decision on Swedenborg’s hourly wage next week, during its regular Monday night meeting. It hopes to meet with a Special Districts Association of Oregon representative then who will assist the district in the search for its next fire chief.
Clyde said they still need to discuss what they want in a leader and existing options. In the meantime, Swedenborg said the department’s fire responses will be remain unchanged.
There is no timeline yet for how long it will take to find a replacement.