By Ralph Echtinaw
After 21 years as chief of the St. Louis Area Fire Department, Rich Apps, 69, has announced his retirement.
Apps will be officially retired as of Dec. 31.
The Fire Board met Tuesday to discuss the succession process with consultant David Purchase, who is being paid $75/hour for his help.
Purchase, a retired fire chief with 40 years experience, agreed to amend the existing fire chief job description and produce a firefighter application to replace the generic city job application the SLAFD has been using.
The job opening will be posted at local city and township halls and advertised statewide in publications and online boards that are specific to firefighting in Michigan.
There will be a two-step interview process. The first step interview committee will comprise Purchase, one or two fire officers from outside the area and a member of the Fire Board, said Fire Board Chairman Kevin Beeson.
Once the field has been narrowed to three or four finalists the full Fire Board will interview applicants publicly.
They plan to have a new chief hired by Oct. 31.
The job of fire chief has gotten more complex over the years, and Purchase said he doesn’t know how part-time chiefs, such as St. Louis’ volunteer department has, can get everything done that should be done.
Well, everything DOESN’T get done, Apps said. “For a chief, basically, what they have to do is prioritize what they’re going to do and kind of choose what they’re going to let slide. Otherwise they’re not going to survive.”
Apps remembered a 2002 visit with Chief Doug Doefer of the Bay City Fire Department. Doefer asked how things are going in St. Louis.
“I said I struggle with trying to do the things I need to do because of the time at work (before Apps retired from a job at the Alma hospital). He sat back in his chair, looked up at the ceiling and said, ‘I don’t know how you guys in the volunteer service get anything done. I’m full time. I have full time battalion chiefs. I have a full time secretarial staff. And I can’t get everything done that I’m supposed to do.’”
Apps said he “will assist whoever’s appointed in any way I can before and after Dec. 31. But they will find that they have to prioritize what they will do and what they will not. It’s just the reality of it.”
There was some discussion about the pros and cons of advertising the position and posting it internally at the same time.
“That’s a tough board call,” Beeson said. “But if you’re trying to hire the best chief it might not be somebody internal. And it doesn’t hurt to see what else is there.”
Purchase warned that some applicants might be willing to move to St. Louis from many miles away but are more interested in having fire chief on their resumés than in settling down in St. Louis.
Apps noted that he occasionally runs into men in the area who retired from fire departments downstate. “We get a surprise from time to time on various runs where we discover someone living in our community who is retired from Pontiac fire as a battalion chief or something,” he said. “People move up here because their children and grandchildren are here. We don’t know who they are, where they’re from, what their background is. There might be some surprises out there that could be a big benefit to us.”
The process today is far more involved than it was 21 years ago when Apps took over from Larry Parsons.
“The outgoing chief can make recommendations,” he said at a Fire Board meeting one year ago. “And that’s what happened when Larry was retiring. As I recall, he talked to me about it several times, and I declined for different reasons. And finally he told me, ‘Well, Rich. I’m leaving, and if you don’t take over I guess I’m just going to walk away. And he talked with (then city manager) Denny Collison and said ‘I’m looking at retiring end of 1999 and I suggest Rich be appointed as my replacement.’ There really was not a lot of formality.”
Parsons remained on the department for Apps’ first three years as chief, which was a big help, Apps said.
To read the full story that quote was taken from, follow this link.
On a lighter note, Beeson made everyone laugh when he had this to say about the coming advertisement for fire chief. “We don’t have red trucks. Do we have to put that in the ad?”