Cloquet Area Fire District sets leadership for 2022
The board selected Linda Way as its chair for the year and plans to make hiring for vacant positions a priority.
CLOQUET — The Cloquet Area Fire District set up its board leadership for the upcoming year during a virtual meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Interim Chair Linda Way was elected as the chair by the board after previously being the vice chair in 2021.
Way thanked the board members for their nominations and their confidence in her for the position.
Bruce Blacketter was unanimously elected as vice chair by the board.
“I appreciate that and I look forward to serving,” he said.
Douglas Wolf, the most recent addition to the board, who was appointed by the Cloquet City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 18, was nominated and appointed as the treasurer for the district.
Way added she was delighted to have Wolf on the board and said the board would mentor and support him in the new role.
The board still has two vacant seats open, one for a Carlton County representative and one for a St. Louis County representative.
Way said the representative for Carlton County, who would be from either Twin Lakes or Thomson Township, is in the process of being chosen by the Carlton County auditor and is expected to be named by the February board meeting.
The new board member and elections come after a year that ended in a handful of resignations and controversies.
At the tail end of 2021, previous board chair Bob DeCaigny , board member Jason Paulson and fire chief Matthew Ashmore had resigned .
The district came into some controversy when it attempted to balance its costs of fire district and ambulance service on townships that only have the ambulance service. This was done after the Minnesota Legislature removed a cap on ambulance-only tax levy in 2021.
This resulted in residents concerned over having their proposed taxes go up in the district by 300% .
The board members resigned while discussions on the tax rate were taking place.
Decaigny’s resignation came after the truth-in-taxation meeting in December, and he was asked to resign by the Cloquet City Council.
Paulson’s resignation was in October when the discussions on raising the tax rate were taking place. He said he resigned in protest of the proposed rate.
District officials ultimately kept the rate the same as the previous year and are looking to have more clear and precise numbers for the upcoming year’s tax rate on how much the ambulance service alone costs.
While she was the interim chair of the board, Way said focusing on communication with member communities would be the most important aspect for the upcoming year and that it will be an “exciting time” to make changes in the district.
In other district business, Interim Chief Jesse Buhs addressed the board with proposals for restructuring and hiring staff.
The restructuring comes from open battalion chief positions, one of which was Buhs' previous position, and will be filled in the interim by current staff.
With the changes, other positions also needed to be filled on an interim basis to ensure the district meets its leadership needs.
“It’ll be an important piece to the puzzle I am currently missing,” Buhs said.
Way supported the proposal, believing having the leadership in place around the interim chief will support him and allow him to come into the role as chief.
“Even as interim chief there is a lot of work to do, and having these folk in place will allow him to really function better and do the work we are expecting of him,” she said.
Buhs also took a moment to congratulate the staff who moved up, as they would normally have a more formal proceeding when meetings are held in person.
“I think they are all going to make a great addition to the leadership team,” he said.
The board also moved forward with the hiring of five new firefighters/emergency medical technicians for the district.
Buhs explained three of the positions would be new and already approved by the board, and two would fill current vacancies in the district.
“Hiring is our highest priority,” he said.
The reason Buhs wants to hire all at the same time is because recruitment for the positions can take time and it will make it easier to train the new staff in one group rather than individually.
“We don't anticipate being able to hire or make the recommendations to hire until probably April,” he said. “Once we get those folks on board and trained to where they can operate independently, that should offset overtime costs as well.”