The Columbia River Fire & Rescue (CRFR) Board of Directors has selected CRFR Division Chief of Operations Eric Smythe as the agency's interim Fire Chief.
The board made the appointment during a special meeting Thursday evening, June 25. Following that meeting, Chief Smythe spoke with the Chronicle about his vision and priorities in the new position.
The Chronicle: What are your top priorities as interim Fire Chief?
Smythe: The priorities I have as an interim Fire Chief are also what we have as a district developed through a collaborative process. It is a team that moves this District forward and thanks to the input from career, volunteer, administration, and Fire Board members we have and will continue to do plan, develop, and implement as we rise to meet new challenges and opportunities.
We have collaboratively developed a budget and plan to move our District forward beginning July 1, 2020.
The priorities for the immediate future are:
- Team building and communication amongst all fire district members
- Implementation of the 20/21 budget plan
- Fire Chief recruitment process per Fire Board guidance
- Addition of new Fire and EMS apparatus
- Increasing staffing to meet the needs of the Fire District
- Volunteer Fire and EMS recruitment
The Chronicle: What do you see as the immediate challenges facing CRFR and what is your plan to overcome those challenges?
Smythe: Our career and volunteer members respond to our community needs for both emergency and non-emergency incidents on a daily basis. That dedication, professionalism, and courteous response has not changed regardless of who the Fire Chief is.
The immediate priorities as stated above are to ensure continuity of services, replacement of our aging fire equipment, increase staffing, and recruit a Fire Chief in the next 6-12 months.
The challenge we face isn’t really a challenge, but finding the right fit for our members and the community we serve. With the ending of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), the only challenge is working to improve our internal morale and communication and we are really excited to see how things improve.
The Chronicle: Will you be applying for the position as permanent CRFR Chief? If so, why? If not, why not?
Smythe: The question of whether or not I will apply for the position is not foremost in my thoughts at this time. Over the course of the next several months I will discuss the potential with my family, their support would be paramount to any decision.
Family support would not be my only decision factor, the support of the line firefighters, volunteers, administrative and Fire Board members would have a great impact as well. A Fire Chief, in order to be successful has to build mutual trust and respect, it is a delicate process.
The Chronicle: How will you lead CRFR in working collaboratively with other area fire districts/departments?
Smythe: We have developed relationships with our community partners in Law Enforcement, public works, and public health. We have very good relations with our County Fire District members in Clatskanie, Scappoose, Vernonia, Mist/Birkenfeld, and Longview WA.
Our District has received aid on several fires and auto accidents recently on both ends of our response area. Columbia County Fire Defense Board is made up of the Fire Chiefs from each Fire District. We meet monthly and discuss needs, expectations, and challenges faced by each District. These meetings include our Columbia County 911, Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Columbia County Emergency Operations Center personnel.
It is a great testament to our resilience here in Columbia County, we all work together to best meet the needs of all the citizens and visitors to our communities.
We can call for aid and we can give it as necessary, it really is an amazing group to work with.
Follow developments of the CRFR chief recruiting process here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.