Interviews underway for Fort Smith fire chief, six finalists on the list

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 425 views 

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken and Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman are part of the panel interviewing candidates for the open Fort Smith Fire Chief position. Interviews began on Thursday (June 23) from City Hall and will continue this week.

Geffken and Dingman are joined by Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck; Fort Smith EMS Executive Director Tim Hearn; retired former Assistant Fire Chief Terry Bigler, who served as interim chief after the position was vacated by Mike Richards in October 2015; and Chief Master Sgt. Ron Redding of the 188th Wing.

An invitation was also extended by Dingman to Interim Fort Smith Police Chief Dean Pitts, though it is unclear as of Monday (June 27) if he has joined the panel.

Three of the six finalists were interviewed last Thursday, with the final three sitting down with the hiring committee in the next week. The city will issue a press release when a hiring decision has been made.

Unlike the City Administrator position Geffken filled in May after Gosack vacated it on July 10, 2015, the city did not hire an outside consultant to source candidates but utilized its normal application process, Human Resources Coordinator Lindsey Kaelin said in comments to Talk Business & Politics, noting that the city received 25 applications in all.

Following are the six finalists.

Teddy Abbey
Abbey attended the Community College of the Air Force before transferring to John Brown University, where he graduated in 2000 with a cumulative GPA of 3.546, earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational management. He earned his master’s in business administration from Webster University in St. Louis seven years later.

As an employee of the Fort Smith Fire Department from 1995 to the present, Abbey is a battalion chief and has also worked as a substitute teacher for Fort Smith Public Schools. He has also owned and operated Girly Girl Fitness since 2013.

Abbey joined the U.S. Navy in 1989 doing a two-year stint before jumping over to the Arkansas 188th Air National Guard in 1992. He received an honorable discharge in 2000.

Gary Birch
Birch is the fire chief of Leavenworth, Kan., a town of approximately 36,000. He has served in the role since 2013, but also served seven years in the role for the city of Liberty, Mo. In 2010, he left that position to take over as fire C=chief of the Holt Fire Protection District in Holt, Mo, and later, in 2012, the assistant fire chief position in Bentonville.

Birch started as a firefighter in 1976 and rose to the rank of captain in 1987. He earned his bachelor’s degree in fire science and safety from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg (1984). He secured a master’s degree 11 years later from Park College Graduate School of Kansas City, and achieved his Chief Fire Officer Designation in 2010.

Tommy Bishop
Bishop has earned a number of certification credentials with his first being from the applied science program at St. Edward School of Radiologic Technology in 1981. From there, he picked up his associate of applied science degree from Westark Community College (now University of Arkansas at Fort Smith) in 1996.

He completed Fire Officer Training School at North Little Rock in 2007, earning his Executive Fire Officer certification. In 2012, he completed the certification program for Fire and Explosives Investigation from Oklahoma State University. He plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership in December 2016 from UAFS.

Altogether Bishop has worked 31 years with the Fort Smith Fire Department and has spent the last eight as a battalion chief, working as a shift commander, training officer, and fire marshal.

Philip Christensen
Christensen, assistant fire chief for the Fort Smith Fire Department since November 2015, has worked with the department more than 24 years and has been promoted five times during that period. In his role, he is the direct supervisor for all battalion and division chiefs and earns $84,500 annually.

He has received a total of 18 certifications specific to fire safety, hazardous materials, emergency management, and administration throughout his career from Southern Arkansas University-Tech (SAU-Tech), the National Fire Academy, the International Fire Safety Accreditation Congress (IFSAC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC), the Arkansas Fire Academy (AFA), the Public Agency Training Council (PATC), the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), and the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC).

He is enrolled in the FBI Bomb Squad Executive Management Course.

Harold Clark
Clark works for the City of Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services, where he has been a battalion fire chief since July 2000. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Webster University in 2011 and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2009.

Clark also has a number of certifications related to fire safety, hazardous materials, emergency management, and administration.

Jim Long
Long has worked for the Tulsa Fire Department since 1979, progressing to the rank of captain in 1990 and district fire chief in 1999. He has held this position for 17 years.

During the course of his career, Long completed approximately 50 hours of American Council on Education (ACE) bachelor’s level credits, and earned the Executive Fire Officer designation in 2004 from the United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy.

Long listed his salary at $90,272.43 annually, up from a starting pay of $10,656 when he started with the department nearly 37 years ago.

As the only African-American candidates, Bishop and Clark would head a department historically lacking in diversity. The department has just three uniformed personnel out of 149 (and a total of 152 employees). That is a 1.9% makeup compared to the approximately 9% of African-Americans that comprise the city’s population.

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