JC fire chief candidates talk goals, priorities

The three finalists for Jefferson City's next fire chief said improving training and communications would be top priorities.

Jefferson City residents had a chance on Thursday to meet the three candidates still in the running to become their next fire chief.

Fire Captains Jay Niemeyer and Matt Schofield and Interim Fire Chief Jason Turner spent two hours fielding questions from members of their own department and another hour answering questions from the general public. All three said the department's budget is one of its chief obstacles, noting the long process for getting new equipment. Schofield said the department may have to look into ways to stretch its budget, such as discontinuing less essential services.

The candidates all said improving fire department training and communications would be among their top priorities if they become chief. Niemeyer in particular said the department should improve its firefighter training and its emergency medical service capabilities. He said the department should also continually update its standard operating procedures as the city evolves. Turner said the department needs to work on replacing old equipment and maintaining its stations. Schofield said the department needs to carefully study how it delivers its services to look for ways to improve.

Residents who attended the Q&A session said the city would have a tough choice among the three candidates. Chuck Gaskin said he thought the city would benefit from any of them, but he was disappointed by the budget problem the winner would face.

"We (citizens) hope to become usable in getting these guys the budget they need," he said. "We cannot cut back on our fire department. We can't cut back on law enforcement."

Members of the search committee that selected the candidates said their committee would meet Friday morning to discuss feedback from the public and firefighters as well as the results of interviews conducted on Tuesday. The committee hopes to recommend one finalist to City Admnistrator Steve Crowell by the end of the day. The city council will have final say over who becomes the city's next fire chief.