Helgeson chosen as new Medford fire chief
Members of Medford’s City Council were tasked with hiring a new fire chief – and as it turned out, the answer was in front of them all along.
Craig Helgeson, who was elected to the council in 2022, was the Medford Fire Department’s recommendation for its next leader.
Council members approved the recommendation by a 4-0 vote at their Nov. 27 meeting, with Helgeson abstaining.
It was a decidedly calmer meeting than the month before, which drew several people who criticized the selection process, as well as several firefighters who defended it.
Because the last selection of a chief was done nearly three decades ago – predating all the current city council members and most of the current firefighters – current chief Rick Hager suggested back in May that the firefighters would come up with their own recommendation, with the final decision made by the city council. He was selected in a similar way.
But Mayor Danny Thomas said in October that “there’s concern from the general public” of unfair handling of the process. At least one member of the department had complained to Thomas personally, he said.
According to Hager, any eligible firefighter could throw his hat in the ring and was asked to provide a 15-minute presentation or introduction of themselves at a meeting set aside for just that. An informal question-and-answer session was held, allowing the candidates to speak directly to any questions or concerns put forth by their fellow firefighters.
“We all agreed,” Hager said. “The candidates knew what we were going to do before they put their name in the hat. What we decided as a department worked very, very well, and we thought we could come out with a recommendation that we could all support.”
Three “very good candidates” were in the running, he said, but the consensus from the firefighters was Helgeson.
There were still sticking points, though.
“I’ve heard from a couple firefighters: Was there an official vote or was there a consensus vote, where you decided who would be chief?” asked council member Amanda Mueller. “I’ve heard two different things, and I just wanted to clarify.”
Hager reiterated it was a consensus.
Councilor Nick Sorensen, who’d been asked to oversee the final meeting, had a question of his own.
“Why were the individual candidates not allowed to vote?” he asked.
“We felt it was going to cancel each vote out,” Hager said. “I would assume they’d vote for themselves.”
Firefighter Matt Mullenbach also had a response for Sorensen.
“They weren’t sitting in on all of our question and answer sessions,” he said, “so they weren’t informed of the other candidates’ qualifications, necessarily.”
Council member Chad Merritt, who had been drawn into the fray, addressed the elephant in the room.
“I just hope the fire department sticks together,” he said. “This is a good group of guys. It’s a big change, so I hope you stick together.”
“The key is, as a city, we’ve learned together and let’s go forward,” he said. “We have to have no hard feelings.”
Hager’s last day as chief is Dec. 31; he will remain on the department to assist with the transition of leadership.