Grand Island is a step closer to a permanent fire chief, 12 months and two interim chiefs after the last one resigned.
On Monday, the city announced three finalists to run a fire department that has been the source of controversy for more than a year.
The finalists are Terry Flynn from Traverse City, Mich.; Patrick Kelly from Vero Beach, Fla.; and Corey Schmidt, a current Grand Island fire captain from St. Paul.
Flynn has a master's degree and is also a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program with the National Fire Academy and has a Chief Fire Officer certification with the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He is currently serving as the chief of operations with Grand Traverse Metro Emergency Services Authority in Traverse City, Mich., and has been in this role since 2006. He was also a member of the Chicago Fire Department.
Another finalist is Patrick Kelly of Arlington, VA. He obtained a master's degree from Loyola College in Baltimore, MD and like Flynn graduated from the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program and Kelly also has a Chief Fire Officer certification.
Kelly is currently a consultant and professor. Previously he served as fire chief in Tucson, Ariz., for two and a half years and as the fire chief in DeLand, Fla., for nearly four years.
The third candidate is Cory Schmidt who currently is a fire captain with the Grand Island Fire Department. Schmidt has an Associate's degree in fire protection technology from Southeast Community College in Lincoln and a Bachelor's degree in business administration from Peru State College in Nebraska.
Schmidt has been with the Grand Island Fire Department since 1996, and was promoted to fire captain in 2000. Schmidt is also a business owner in St. Paul, Nebr., owning Hard Core 4x4 since 2008 and opening Schmidt Realty in 2011.
Prior to working for the Grand Island Fire Department, Schmidt served as a fire protection specialist for the United State Air Force for four years.
The announcement of the three finalists could cap a tumultuous year for the department. It was September 2011 when Chief Troy Hughes announced his resignation. He left to run a department in New Mexico.
Tim Hiemer was then named interim chief, however he was limited to four months in that position. When his term expired, the position was left vacant.
That prompted the IAFF fire union to sue the city. Judge James Livingston sided with firefighters, and told the city to name a chief.
Days before a court-ordered deadline, Mayor Jay Vavricek appointed Russ Blackburn to the role.
Now, Vavricek will make a recommendation for a permanent replacement.
Mayor Jay Vavricek issued a statement, saying "I'm confident with city council participation, community involvement, IAFF leadership, and professional advice that a sound recommendation will be brought forward for council approval."
The handling of the fire department is one of the criticisms leveled against Vavricek, and outgoing city administrator Mary Lou Brown. She is resigning effective September 30 while Vavricek faces a possible recall election.
The fire chief recruitment process entailed an Assessment Center Testing Process administered by human resources management and testing consultant, CPS HR Consulting, headquartered in Sacramento, Calif.
The Assessment Center was administered by CPS on August 21 and August 22, 2012. Subject matter experts from Salina, Kan., Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the Nebraska cities of Omaha, Lincoln, and North Platte were all part of the process. In addition, the process included participation from three city council members and two members from the community.
Final employment interviews for the fire chief position are scheduled for Monday, Sept. 17. These interviews will be conducted by an advisory interview committee consisting of Mayor Jay Vavricek, city council members Linna Dee Donaldson, Mitch Nickerson, and Vaughn Minton, City Administrator Mary Lou Brown, Human Resources Director Brenda Sutherland, International Association of Fire Fighters President Scott Kuehl, and community members.
A community open house will also be held on Monday, September 17, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the city council chambers of city hall, 100 E. First St. Members of the community and the media are invited and encouraged to be part of this event to meet and better get to know each finalist.
After the interviews have been completed, Mayor Vavricek will take his recommendation forward to the city council for final approval.