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CLCFD chooses new Chief

by Nancy Dallas

DAYTON – Central Lyon County Fire District officials have selected their fifth fire chief in eight years.

Winning out over two other finalists for the $65,000 per year position, 37-year old John Gillenwater on Wednesday evening accepted the fire board’s offer to lead the eight-station, primarily volunteer district. He will meet with the board’s contract attorney to work out the contract details.

“It was a long process. The competition was incredible. All the candidates were very well qualified,” he commented following the meeting. “I am nervous, surprised, excited and very proud they determined to offer me the position.”

Gillenwater said he wants to make sure everything is finalized before he begins the process of moving his family to Lyon County. He and his wife Michelle have three children.

If all contractual conditions are met, Gillenwater will assume his position as district chief on Sept. 4, relieving Acting Chief Mark Darragh of the duties he accepted upon the resignation and subsequent board-imposed administrative leave of former Chief Bill Driscoll on March 17.

Darragh was impressed with the hiring process and is looking forward to returning to his position of assistant fire chief. He did not apply for the chief position.

“I have a lot of faith in the hiring process, and the future of our district under John Gillenwater looks extremely positive. I look forward to having a full administrative back in place.”

Wednesday night’s interview of the three finalists by the district board was the fifth of the lengthy and intensive hiring process.

Gillenwater has been employed as training captain for the Reno Fire Department since July 1, 2001. Prior experience includes fire training officer, fire captain, fire operator, fire fighter and auxiliary firefighter, all with the Truckee Meadows Fire Department.

He has also served as paramedic coordinator for Truckee Meadows Community College.

Following one-hour interviews with each of the three finalists, the five board members were polled as to their top choice. Citing Gillenwater’s diversified fire fighting experience and knowledge, educational background and overall presentation, all but board member Richard Forant immediately placed him at the top of their list.

Board member Steve McLaughlin said “He appeared to have the best qualifications that we are looking for. I thought he was the most likely successful candidate for what we do in this district. I was impressed by the fact he is alert to internal and external customer needs and to individual and group requirements.”

While speaking highly of Gillenwater, Forant said he would rather hire someone with more experience and supported former Dayton Valley resident and volunteer fireman Richard Bulman.

“John’s highest position has been captain, versus Bulman’s as a batallion chief. We do have to have a strong administrator here, someone who will definitely oversee the budget process. With John, my feeling is there might be a little too fast track,” he explained. “I would rather err for someone with a little bit more experience, someone who has been in the trenches a little bit longer, someone who has achieved higher levels in the fire ranks and someone who is familiar with the area and been in the trenches here.”

Bulman is currently a battalion chief with the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District (Incline Village).

However, noting his own rankings had only one point separating the two candidates, Forant agreed Gillenwater should be offered the position and made the motion to do so. The board selected Bulman as first alternate. The third candidate, Robert Signor, will be offered the position if neither Gillenwater or Bulman meet the conditions of the contract or fail to accept the position.

There are seven volunteer fire stations, including Silver City, Mound House, Dayton, Dayton Valley, Mark Twain, Stagecoach and Silver Springs. Paid office staff and medical personnel are located at the Sutro Station east of Dayton. There are currently 12 paid employees, including the chief.

Craig Grischott – hired Oct. 15, 1990; fired Jan. 7, 1993

Bill Dekker – hired Jan. 14, 1993; resigned March 1996 following a drunken driving arrest. He was legally drunk when he responded to a fire.

Bernie Sease – served as interim chief during hiring process.

Rick Martin – hired Aug. 18, 1996. Resigned Oct. 30, 1997. The board suspended him without pay on Oct. 7 and was proceeding with termination procedures. Reasons undisclosed.

Sease – served as interim chief during hiring process.

Bill Driscoll – hired May 1998. Resigned effective July 31, 2001, placed on administrative leave with pay March 17, 2001. Reasons undisclosed.

Mark Darragh – appointed as interim chief during hiring process.

John Gillenwater – hired Sept. 4, 2001