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Mills Fire Dept

Ethan Hecht, an engineer with the Mills Fire Department, runs an inspection on an ambulance in May. Dave North has been picked as the department's new chief.

Dave North has been named head of Mills’ Emergency Services Department and chief of the town’s fire department.

The appointment was made in special town council meeting held 9 a.m. Monday. The town gave notice of that meeting on its website Friday, but no press release was issued prior to the meeting. Residents have voiced frustrations over the appointment, and it’s the most recent in a string of unpopular decisions town officials have made in recent months, many of which are related to how the city provides fire services.

North, who vice-chairs the Natrona County Parks Board, ran for a seat on the Natrona County Commission in 2018 and lost. He came to Wyoming in 1986 to work for the Game and Fish Department before starting his own environmental and safety consulting business. North plans to remain on the parks board.

Mills is one of the few growing towns in Wyoming. But that growth has come with consequences

North’s fire and EMS experience

North is a controversial pick for the role. When his name was first floated last week as a potential next chief, residents raised concerns over his apparent lack of fire and EMS experience.

North said he feels he has extensive experience.

“It’s not totally alien to me,” he said, explaining that he’s been involved with emergency management systems since his time with the Game and Fish Department, where he worked from 1986 to 1999. North said he also has had emergency medical technician certifications, though all but one has lapsed in recent years. He said he currently holds an advanced first-aid certification. Through his company, North said he has conducted fire investigations and is certified to work with hazardous materials as well.

A “David A. North” is listed in the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. That listing shows a national EMT certification that expired in March, 2000. No “David North” is listed as having any current EMS or EMT certifications on either the state or national registries.

Mills residents seek recall of Mayor Seth Coleman amid search for new fire chief

North conceded he does not have experience with ambulance billing and that while he worked with fire departments during his time with the Game and Fish Department, he has not served on a fire department.

“There’s always a learning curve,” North said.

Mark Young, Wyoming assistant state fire marshal, said there are no state statutes regarding certifications or qualifications to be named a fire chief.

Still, members of the Mills fire department have said it would be unusual for a chief to lack specific fire and EMS work experience.

North said because he will serve in a supervisory role, he doesn’t expect that lack of direct experience to hinder his performance, and actually, he said, his work experience suits the job duties.

“This is more of an administrative position,” he said. “Basically this fits right in line with a lot of my background.”

He emphasized that by running his own consulting business, he has had to deal with budgets and coordinating staff. He also said he has experience bringing operations into their most efficient form, which he said he hopes to do with the department.

North’s new duties will include a good deal of administrative and personnel work, as well as coordination with other emergency responders across the county. For Mills, that often means coordinating with the Natrona County Fire Protection District.

Brian Oliver, chief of the county district, said is was unusual for a chief to not have explicit experience on a fire department.

“A chief-level officer usually comes up through the ranks ... knows the department inside and out,” he said.

But if North’s only roles are administrative, Oliver said that lack of experience likely won’t cause any problems. Oliver also said coordinating with different county departments may be difficult for North at first because of his limited background.

But all the fire chiefs in the county meet routinely, so it would not be difficult to catch him up, Oliver added.

A press release issued by Mills Monday morning shortly after the Star-Tribune published an earlier version of this story calls North “uniquely suited” for the position.

“(North) brings extensive training and experience to the position, including law enforcement, wildland fire supervisory training and industrial safety and planning that makes him uniquely suited for the position,” that release reads.

Mills Mayor Seth Coleman has not responded to multiple phone calls and an attempt to reach him at his office. He was quoted in the town’s press release, however.

“Mills residents deserve to have a highly trained, capable emergency services department that can be relied upon when needed,” he said in the release. “I believe Dave is the right man to lead the department in this moment. He has the experience and training needed to move us forward and set the department on a sustainable path.”

The long search for a chief

Last July, then-fire chief Dan Beall resigned after being asked to by the Town Council. At the time, Coleman told a Star-Tribune reporter it was because of a confidential personnel matter.

The rest of the department greeted Beall’s resignation with shock, Justin Melin told a Star-Tribune reporter at the time. After Beall stepped down, Jerry Wyatt, a retired battalion chief from the Casper Fire Department, took over as interim chief, then also resigned less than a month later. That resignation was also shrouded in mystery, and Coleman declined to release details to the public.

The department remained in limbo for several months until Melin took over as interim chief in October. By then, the town was actively searching to fill the department’s top position, and Melin had been enlisted to help.

Melin said over the last 10 months, he sat in on five interviews for potential candidates, all of which had extensive fire and EMS backgrounds, he said. During the search for the new chief, Melin said he focused on the candidates’ EMS billing experience, because the Mills Fire Department answers significantly more medical calls than fire calls.

Despite being involved throughout the months-long search, Melin was not part of North’s interview, nor was he given any information about North’s qualifications before the decision to name North was made, he said.

Melin said he was not told North was a candidate for the position until after a June 26 town council meeting when Coleman approached him and told him. Melin said he had been consulted on the other applicants, but ultimately the fire chief is a mayoral appointee.

North said he did not apply for the position, but rather was approached to take the job. He declined to say by whom, but said it was not Coleman. He also said he could not recall how long ago he was approached.

North took over as head of Mills’ emergency services first thing Monday after the 9 a.m. special meeting. North said prior to Monday he had not spoken with any of the current members of the department, but they were receptive to him when he introduced himself Monday, he said.

Public outcry

When North’s name came up last week as the likely next chief, many residents were unhappy with the decision, including Mills resident Leah Juarez. She was among those asking for Coleman’s resignation in May and June, after town officials attempted to reduce the fire department and lay off nine firefighters.

When that decision was reversed, many residents felt at least somewhat satisfied with the resolution, Juarez included, she told a Star-Tribune reporter in early June.

Mills Fire Department to remain intact

The decision to appoint North has left some residents again questioning Coleman’s motives, and some are calling this a final straw. Juarez, along with another resident, Adam Raver, created an online petition last week to gauge interest in recalling Coleman. That petition had 117 signatures as of 2 p.m. Monday. It is the second such petition in as many months.

Despite the unclear legality around mayoral recalls, Juarez hopes to appeal to state officials when enough signatures are gathered. In Wyoming, that means 25 percent of registered voters in an area. Mills currently has 1,150 registered voters, according to the Natrona County Clerk’s Office.

North will be officially sworn in during the town’s regular council meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday. That meeting will be held at the Mills courthouse while the town hall ramp is under construction. Juarez said she and other residents plan to attend that meeting to challenge North’s appointment.

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Follow city reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites.

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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