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Los Pinos Fire wants to advertise for new chief in March

District has been in turmoil over firing and recall effort
The Los Pinos Fire Protection District is looking for a new chief, but finding the right candidate might be difficult until a controversy dies down. Some employees and residents are leading a recall effort against the board of directors after a deputy chief was abruptly fired.

Candidates who are interested in becoming chief of the Los Pinos Fire Protection District won’t apply for the position while turmoil is roiling the district.

That was the message Tuesday night from interim Fire Chief Larry Behrens, who was speaking to members of the board of directors.

“My biggest concern is that we don’t have a very attractive situation to offer them,” Behrens said during the board meeting. “We’re going to lose good candidates.”

In December, the board fired Deputy Chief Kevin Ratzmann. He and other community members are collecting signatures to recall the five members of the Los Pinos board, citing unethical behavior by board members and the past chief, Tom Aurnhammer.

After Aurnhammer retired in December, Behrens, who was the Los Pinos chief for 15 years, returned to serve on an interim basis.

Behrens is recommending that he, the board and Los Pinos staff spend the next month writing a job description for the chief’s position, then advertise the position in March.

“We need to get some of this behind us,” he said of the upheaval. “I’d like to wait a few months and show that candidate there’s something they can work with.”

Ideally, Behrens hopes a new candidate could be hired in April or May, then he would stay on for another month or so before retiring again.

“This isn’t about money,” he said of his decision to return to the district, at least for the short term. “It’s about principle. The reason I sit right here is principle.”

Behrens said he is working to rebuild trust in the department.

“With the proper respect, we can build those relationships and put some stability back underneath the organization,” he said.

Behrens said he would like current employees to contribute to the job description, along with meeting the candidates who come in for interviews.

The recall committee has until Feb. 11 to gather 300 signatures for petitions to recall the board members. If enough signatures are valid, a recall election will be held.

Behrens said as interim chief, he is not going to the scenes of fires and medical incidents.

“It’s not my intent to get involved in the day-to-day operations,” he said.

He said his primary task is working on the 2019 budget, including trying to cut costs in the district, which is facing decreased property taxes from oil and gas revenues.

In the past, the department was paying for “wants, not needs,” he said. “We have to live within our means.” The department has been using capital funds to cover the shortfall, but that can’t last indefinitely, he said.

The cost-cutting won’t affect departmental safety, he said.

“I will never, ever, ever affect safety,” he said. “Never.”

The board is set to meet Feb. 11, the day recall petitions must be submitted to the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

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