Aberdeen’s search for a new fire chief is over and the chosen candidate has a wealth of experience.
John Clark, who comes to Aberdeen from North Whidbey Fire and Rescue in Oak Harbor, was hired during the Aberdeen City Council meeting on July 13. His anticipated start date — pending a background check — is Monday, Aug. 1.
North Whidbey’s Division Chief Chris Swiger had a couple of good things to say on July 15, when The Daily World called to ask about Clark’s move to Aberdeen.
“He’s been a great chief for us and all of North Whidbey Fire and Rescue wishes him well,” Swiger said.
One of the reasons Clark was hired for AFD’s top job was for his firefighting experience, of which he has 43 years of experience. In addition to serving NWFR, Clark has also served as fire chief in Baker City, Oregon, and in the Lansing, Michigan area throughout his career, according to NWFR’s website. In addition to his chief positions, Clark is a certified fire officer III, fire instructor I, paramedic, fire plans examiner, fire inspector, and professional emergency manager.
According to Clark, who spent most of his career in the state of Michigan, he wanted to come out to the Pacific Northwest for the much milder weather and the scenery. He’s been out in the region for the past 10 years and it sounds like he loves it.
“Yeah, we get the rain, but rain’s better than snow,” said Clark, who also prefers the fact that it “usually” stays between approximately 40-70 degrees all year in Grays Harbor County.
As for coming out specifically to Aberdeen, it’s the location that Clark wanted, because of the nearby ocean shoreline and because the big cities, such as Seattle and Portland, are close.
“The Pacific Northwest is a great place to live and (this) is just another opportunity to be closer to the shore, and to be involved in a community (Aberdeen) that’s well established,” Clark said.
Clark, who sounded excited to join Aberdeen Fire Department, knows he’s got big shoes to fill after Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard retired on June 10.
“He’ll be a hard act to follow,” Clark said. “He had a good relationship with the firefighters and with the city. But there are a lot of good things with the fire department. They’re moving forward with, hopefully, establishing the (Central Grays Harbor) Regional Fire Authority. The hope is we’ll continue that process and work to make some improvements within the fire department that Chief Hubbard and (Aberdeen) Mayor (Pete) Schave have been working on together.”
According to the Aberdeen City Council agenda, Schave recommended Clark start at the pay range 33e, Step 3, with a monthly pay of $11,423, plus benefits.
What struck Schave in his first meeting with Clark was his confidence.
Schave described how the city had a lot of good candidates and how finding a permanent successor after Hubbard was long and difficult.
Clark was one of eight applicants, and of those eight, he was one of the four to receive an interview invitation. According to Kati Kachman, Aberdeen City Council president, the hiring process was thorough. She relayed to the council the hiring process during the council meeting.
“We had received resumes and cover letters from eight different candidates,” Kachman said. “They were reviewed by (Human Resources) Director Dani Smith, retired Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard, and McLane Black Lake Fire Chief Leonard Johnson. Seven out of eight of the candidates were selected to move forward to the next step, which was three essay questions. These were reviewed by the same group.”
During that time, and afterward, the candidates still in the running met with Aberdeen Fire Department staff, then they went through a series of panel interviews with fire chiefs and union officials. The final interview, on June 22 was a mayor’s panel consisting of Schave, Ward 1 Position 2 Councilmember Kacey Morrison, Hoquiam Fire Chief Matt Miller, Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay and Cosmopolis City Administrator Darrin Raines. The panel’s scoring put Clark at the top.
Clark commented on his experience during the city’s search process.
“Through that process they learned about you and you learned more about the city,” Clark said. “The goal was to try and see what your skill set was related to what the department and the city wanted in that position. It was a long process, but the process was built to find the best candidate.”
During the Aberdeen City Council vote that ultimately resulted in Clark’s hiring, Morrison was one of two council members who voted against Clark’s hiring. She explained how she “struggled” with her voting decision.
“John Clark has stellar qualifications and is an impressive candidate,” said Morrison to The Daily World on July 14. “He will make a fine chief and I was impressed with him.”
Morrison added how her concern was having someone onboard at AFD who is “intimately” familiar with the needs and “lay of the land” in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and the ongoing effort to make the Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority become a reality. Morrison would have rather seen AFD’s Interim Chief Dave Golding get the job.
“Interim Chief Dave Golding has served the department and the city of Aberdeen admirably, and with distinction, for the better part of his career and in my view would have been a natural fit to continue as chief,” Morrison said.
However, Morrison also said she respects the decision of the other people involved in the search and hiring process to hire Clark, and she looks forward to working closely with Clark.
Schave also shared a positive opinion about Golding. In addition to Golding’s full-time role as assistant chief, he also serves as Aberdeen and Hoquiam’s fire marshal.
“I would say Dave Golding presented himself very well, and I can see fire chief in his future,” Schave said.
Schave explained what made Clark the person to appoint as AFD’s newest chief.
“He certainly had a good air of leadership about him, and a lot of experience to back that up,” Schave said. “Plus, he was familiar with (regional fire authorities.) He’s done that before. He’s experienced with building new fire stations, which is something we need to do. He’s willing to jump right in and get going full (speed.)”
Schave sounded glad to have a new fire chief waiting to start in a couple weeks.
“I’m very excited,” Schave said. “He came across as a very knowledgeable, very friendly guy. He’s already making plans to move to this community. He just seemed like a great guy. Lots of knowledge in the areas we’re involved in right now, such as a new fire station development, and RFA development. I’m real excited that he’ll be coming here.”