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July 21, 2014

Search for Merced fire chief to restart

The contract with Merced’s interim fire chief, Michael Wilkinson, has ended. The city is still looking for a full-time chief.

Merced’s search for a fire chief, now in its sixth month, continues.

The city has been recruiting, but the top candidate on its list took a position in a different city, said John Bramble, Merced’s city manager. “Really good candidates (typically) have a few résumés out, and they’re able to take advantage of whoever comes first,” he said.

The search for a qualified full-time chief will restart, and this time the city will cast a wider net, he said. Meanwhile, Merced Fire Operations Chief Don Long is serving as acting chief.

Former Chief Mike McLaughlin, who took over in Merced in 2011, left in January for a deputy chief position in the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department. That department covers an area that includes the cities of Elk Grove and Galt.

The former chief earned $137,298 per year, which is at the high end of the salary range, according to city records

Merced City Council approved the hiring of an interim chief, Michael Wilkinson, in February. His contract to serve no more than 960 hours ceased at the end of June. He was paid $66 an hour, which is also at the high end of the salary range.

Mayor Stan Thurston said “there’s nothing abnormal” about extending the search for a new top firefighter. “A good fire chief doesn’t grow on trees, so it may take a while,” he said.

Whoever gets the job will oversee a department that is still dealing with brownouts, a policy that attempts to solve low staffing and budget issues by leaving one three-person fire engine company unstaffed for as much as a full shift.

During budget talks this year, the council looked for ways to give the Fire Department money and end the brownouts. Instead, the council decided to rearrange some overtime hours, which cuts down on the number of brownouts in Merced, but the policy is still in place.

The policy has been used in Merced since 2012.

A new fire chief is not the only department head position in Merced that will soon need to be filled.

The city will also be looking for someone to replace City Attorney Greg Diaz, who confirmed this month his plans to leave Merced on Sept. 8 to take a position with Ventura. He makes $174,462 annually, according to Merced’s website.

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