North Liberty to host reception for fire chief finalists

Open house is from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday

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NORTH LIBERTY — An open house for the public to meet the five finalists for North Liberty fire chief takes place from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the North Liberty Community Library, 520 W. Cherry St.

The informal reception offers members of the public a chance to meet the candidates and offer input in the final selection.

“We were very pleased with the deep pool of qualified candidates we had to choose from,” said Ryan Heiar, North Liberty city administrator. “Getting the public’s input will be vital to the final decision on a role that is incredibly important to our community.”

The five finalists are Steven Denzien, a lieutenant with the Brookfield Fire Department in Wisconsin; William Houser, captain with the Marion Fire Department; Richard Kurka, battalion chief with the Bloomingdale Fire Department in Illinois; Jared Ogbourne, captain with the Mason City Fire Department; and Brian Platz, deputy chief with the Iowa City Fire Department.

North Liberty Fire Department Interim Chief Bill Schmooke said the search for a new chief began last November when Chief Eric Vandewater

resigned his part-time position. After that, city officials decided to proceed with a search for a full-time chief.

The growth of North Liberty’s population and an increase in the number of calls the fire department is handling on an annual basis were factors in deciding to go to a full-time chief. The new chief will oversee the department of 40 volunteer firefighters, said Schmooke, who is one of two, paid, assistant chiefs for the department, and also works as a lieutenant for the Iowa City Fire Department.

Schmooke said the department has seen a significant increase in call volume in the past decade, going from 585 calls in 2006 to 1,137 last year.

“We’re on pace to break 1,200 this year,” he said Thursday. “We just went out on our 704th call of the year today.”

At the same time, the North Liberty Fire Department is accepting applications for its fall recruiting class. Schmooke said he’d like to see 10 to 15 recruits with hopes of increasing the department’s number of volunteer firefighters to 50.

Applications can be submitted at nlfire.org.

City officials hired Moulder and Associates, a consulting firm headed by former Des Moines Police Chief William Moulder and specializing in law enforcement, to help with its search for a new fire chief.

Moulder said 48 applications were submitted and the pool was narrowed to 25 and then to 10 by the consulting firm before city officials met to decide on the five finalists.

“One of the things I thought was pretty neat is that if you’re interested in being a fire chief, this isn’t an opportunity you’re going to find very often,” said Moulder. “Because they are going from part-time to full-time, a new chief can really shape and grow the department.”

Schmooke said he is impressed by the five finalists.

“They all are very qualified candidates,” he said. “They all graduated or are in the process of completing the Executive Fire Officer certification through the National Fire Academy.”

He said completing the certification program is like earning a master’s degree in fire service.

North Liberty officials plan to name a new fire chief within the next few weeks. Schmooke said the new chief will earn a salary between $77,000 and $108,000 based on experience and qualifications.

He said the finalists will be put through a “very intense” interview process both with North Liberty city officials and a panel of firefighters consisting of himself, Hiawatha Chief Mike Nesslage and Marshalltown Chief David Rierson.

“It’s a big decision and a step in the right direction for this community,” he said.

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