For the third time in its nearly 12-year history, the Cloquet Area Fire District welcomed a new leader to its ranks.

In November, the CAFD board appointed Matthew Ashmore to the vacant chief position, and he started his tenure Nov. 30. Previous Chief Kevin Schroeder retired in June after leading the department since 2010. Former Assistant Chief Roger Waters was appointed acting chief while the CAFD board searched for Schroeder’s replacement this fall.

Ashmore, 44, began his career as a paid on-call firefighter in his hometown of Eveleth, where his grandfather served for many years and rose to the rank of assistant chief. He is still setting up his office, but his grandfather’s old cap from the Eveleth Fire Department sits on a cabinet next to one from the CAFD.

Ashmore progressed from there, training as an emergency medical technician at Mesabi Range College in Virginia, and eventually was hired to his first full-time firefighting job in West Des Moines, Iowa.

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In 2001, Ashmore moved to the Hibbing Fire Department, where he served as a firefighter and rose to the rank of battalion chief. He also worked as the emergency medical service director.

New CAFD Chief Matthew Ashmore's grandfather once served as assistant chief of the Eveleth Fire Department. He keeps his grandfather's old EPD cap on a cabinet in his office next to a CAFD cap. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)
New CAFD Chief Matthew Ashmore's grandfather once served as assistant chief of the Eveleth Fire Department. He keeps his grandfather's old EPD cap on a cabinet in his office next to a CAFD cap. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

As EMS director, Ashmore worked to ensure the ambulance crews could provide nearly the same level of care those on helicopter flight crews provide. He said the CAFD crews aren’t quite able to do that, but one of his goals is to bring the department up to that level.

“We have some potentially long transport times,” Ashmore said. “If we are 30 or 40 minutes out, there is a lot we can do if we had a lot more (training). So we want to stay on the cutting edge with all that stuff.”

Ashmore is also looking within the department for new ideas about what works, what doesn’t and what could be better. Instead of dictating changes, he wants an inclusive process for alterations in CAFD policy.

“My philosophy behind that is to allow them to run their stuff and allow them to have a voice within the department,” Ashmore said. “No matter if they’re new or if they’ve been here for 30 years. Everybody will have a good idea at one point — even if they’re new — and to hush those people down doesn’t seem very productive.”

That collaborative style is one of the reasons the CAFD board chose Ashmore for the position, according to CAFD board member Linda Way. Way was the chair of the CAFD succession planning committee that selected the candidates the board interviewed.

“I would say his leadership approach is very collaborative, inclusive and respectful with an emphasis on team,” Way said. “The other thing is he is very progressive in his thinking — he understands the future of EMS and fire … He has progressive responsibility within a comparable fire and EMS service and is just rock solid in his qualifications and experience.”

Ashmore and his wife have two adult children. They are looking to move to the district as soon as they can find a house. Ashmore is already looking forward to the spring and eating at Cloquet’s most famous establishment, Gordy’s Hi-Hat, where his standard order is the bacon cheeseburger.

“I mean what else do you really need?” he asked.