Almost three months after a city commission rejected its first round of candidates for the open fire chief position, it has two new finalists.
And just as it did last time, the Police and Fire Commission has asked both to give presentations to the public, set for 6 p.m. Feb. 4, before holding panel interviews with them.
The finalists are Verona interim fire chief Dan Machotka and York (Pennsylvania) Area United Fire and Rescue EMT battalion chief Matt Arnold, city human resources director Mitch Weckerly told the Press on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Machotka has been with the department since 2010, when it was still under the control of the Verona Joint Fire District, and has served as VFD’s training officer, a lieutenant and deputy chief. Machotka has been the officer in charge of the department since Sept. 27, the last day former chief Joe Giver was in the office before his months-long vacation. He has been interim chief since Jan. 2, Giver’s official retirement date.
Arnold has been responsible for fire and rescue operations in York for almost four years, following a 10-year career in IT during which he was a volunteer with the fire department most of that same time.
York, which covers 23 square miles and 35,000 people, is the first regional “combo” fire department in Pennsylvania, notable because Verona – which covers 14,000 people in 32 square miles – is also a combo department. Combo departments have complicated management challenges, as they depend on both full-time (career) firefighters and (paid on-call) volunteers, groups that often have vastly different backgrounds, motivations and skills.
The management difficulties of Verona’s fire department has drawn attention for many years, going through three leaders in less than five years before Giver became its first full-time chief in 2011.
Giver’s management, too, was called into question last year, when the Local 311 firefighters union called for his resignation in the wake of a report showing widespread complaints about the culture and leadership of the department. That report had been compiled by an independent investigator after the union complained one of its members was being punished unfairly for behaviors it said were similar to that of an assistant chief.
Giver, however, outlasted a six-month performance improvement plan that included adding training and communication protocols. He told the Press he had planned to retire in January 2019 but extended his stay to retire on his own terms and ensure the department was in a better place.
The PFC rejected its first round of candidates Nov. 12 after its two finalists, Jeffery Pricher and Ralph Webster, spoke to the public and interviewed with the commission in October. It drew 12 new candidates in a second round and narrowed that group to two finalists last week.
Arnold and Machotka will each interact with the public for 25 minutes during their public interview process, which will be at Verona City Center. Each session will be a 10-minute presentation and a 15-minute Q&A, Weckerly said.
Audience members then will be able to submit feedback on each applicant after the sessions, Weckerly said. The panel interview will be conducted the same day by the PFC, city administrator Adam Sayre and Oregon Area Fire/EMS chief Glenn Linzmeier.
“The feedback will be reviewed by the PFC, and the information will be used as an important element in the overall decision-making process,” he added.