The El Dorado Hills Fire Board named Battalion Chief Dave Roberts, to the top job last week.
Roberts was one of two internal candidates for the position. The other, Division Chief Jim O’Camb, has been filling in as interim chief since Jan. 19, 2011, when former Chief Brian Veerkamp formally stepped down.
The promotion frees up budgetary wiggle room for the fire district, which faces revenue shortfalls and is in the midst of a district-wide reorganization.
An initial round of downsizing was accomplished in April when three captains and one battalion chief agreed to take an early retirement incentive, creating key operational vacancies, but creating flexibility for the district to get leaner without layoffs.
A round of promotions is expected to fill the captain vacancies. Roberts will oversee the restructuring of the battalion, division and deputy chief positions beneath him. The two newly vacated chief positions will also require at least one additional promotion.
Despite its two seemingly strong internal candidates, the board brought in recently retired Folsom Fire Chief Dr. Dan Haverty to advise them in the chief selection process. Haverty, an El Dorado Hills resident, is also advising the board on budget and reorganization strategies.
They also hired CPS Human Resources Services, a self-supporting public agency based in Sacramento. CPS help formalize the selection process and oversaw testing for the final five candidates.
The chief selection subcommittee consisted of Haverty, Directors Greg Durante and John Hidahl, Division Chief Brad Ballenger, union leaders Tom Anselmo and Dave Brady, volunteer Mike Roppolo and Vicki Brashear from CPS.
During the Tuesday special board meeting, Durante explained the selection process while a couple dozen firefighters, family and board-watchers waited patiently ‒ for the most part ‒ to learn who their new chief would be.
The initial pool of 48 outside candidates was screened for minimum qualifications by CPS staff, who whittled the list down to 17.
Following a round of phone interviews, the list was boiled down to the five strongest outside candidates, which included both Roberts and O’Camb. Full background checks were run on each finalist, including credit records and personal references.
The finalists were invited to a day-and-a-half off-site assessment center for in-depth testing and role playing. Candidates walked through a stressful nine-item in-basket involving simultaneously overlapping roles. They were forced to weigh their firefighting responsibilities with community relations, succession planning, budgeting and personnel problems.
The board debriefed the assessors, role players and the candidates before making their final decision.
Durante eventually announced Roberts as the selection committee’s recommendation. A unanimous board vote in support of Roberts followed. He was asked to take command immediately.
After the vote, Durante thanked everyone who participated and called the decision “tough tough tough.”
Hidahl announced that a contract with Roberts must now be negotiated, and suggested that the selection committee morph into a “chief transition” committee.
The normally reserved Roberts was briefly emotional. He thanked the board through a tight throat, then found his voice and told the board that he was honored by their selection. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I won’t let you down.”
Union “Boss” Tom Anselmo thanked the board for letting the union have a couple of seats at the table in the selection process, and praised the professional and respectful manner in which Chiefs O’Camb, Roberts and Ballenger conducted both the evaluation and the simultaneous budget working committee.
Hidahl jumped in and commended the entire organization’s unity in this process. “Jim (O’Camb) is responsible for much of that. He put in a heroic effort as interim chief.”
After the meeting, Anselmo admitted that early on he questioned the necessity of the full outside search process. “I thought we had the people inside that could do the job.” But Haverty took him aside. “He explained that going outside lets the internal candidates rise to the top, that it’s important for them to earn it. So we did this extensive process. I was right there in the middle of it as an assessor and just like he said, the cream did rise.”
Afterward, O’Camb was clearly let down, but put on his game face. “It’s a kick in the gut, but I’m happy we got an inside candidate,” he said. “I respect Dave and know he’ll do a good job.”
Roberts got a round of hugs from the firefighters in attendance, but broke away to reflect on his selection.
“Jim and I hoped it would be one of us. We wanted our knowledge and experience in this chief’s office.”
His first priority? “To go out and reconfirm the expectations that the line (firefighters) have on the upcoming reorganization, and the money we need to save,” he said. “There’s a lot going on simultaneously here.”
Roberts said that he plans to do a lot of listening. “The employees are the ones doing the work. They usually know best what they need. My job is to work out a way to get them what they need to do their job.”
A formal badge “pinning ceremony” for Roberts is in the works. As with the recent retirement ceremonies the public is invited, an honor guard ceremony is planned and refreshments will be served.
Village Life will let you know when the date is set, and even snap a picture of the “pinning” for you if you can’t make it.