Days after a contentious meeting in which community members pushed for his removal, Scio’s fire chief has resigned.
Levi Eckhardt was the chief of the fire district from 2016 until he was placed on administrative leave at his request Dec. 30, Scio Fire District board chair Paul Dykast said.
At the Dec. 21 board meeting, community members asked for Eckhardt’s removal after what they characterized as poor performance as a chief and paramedic.
A little over a week later, he submitted his resignation to the district’s board, and the board has tentatively accepted it as a “mutual separation,” pending legal approval.
“It’s not a termination,” Dykast said. “He hasn’t been able to win over full support of the community, and he did not want to continue on in those conditions.
“It just wasn’t the type of job he wanted. He may fit very well in a different community. We, as a board, could see that the future was just going to be unpleasant.”
Eckhardt, who was the only paid firefighter for the district, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
At the impassioned meeting at the district’s main station in mid-December, community members filled the conference room.
Most people were critical of Eckhardt’s ability to complete tasks associated with the job and also lobbed criticisms about how long it takes the district to respond to calls for service.
Kylie Stillman talked about when her mother, Tammy, died despite receiving CPR from Eckhardt. She described his life saving efforts as not being enough.
“He isn’t stupid, he’s lazy,” she said.
Some community members defended Eckhardt and said the divisiveness was counter-productive to the department’s ability to serve the public.
“Scio used to be a way closer-knit community,” Darren Colgan, a volunteer captain in the district, said.
On Wednesday, the fire district hired former chief Rich LaBelle as the interim fire chief. Dykast said the district will undertake a formal search for a permanent chief, likely through a third-party firm.
The Scio Rural Fire District covers about 101 square miles with one paid firefighter, and about 30 volunteers out of three stations, in Scio, Crabtree and Bilyeu Den.
Residents complained at the Dec. 22 meeting about the level of service and speed of responses, but board officials said significant improvements would require raising taxes to hire paid firefighters.
“We get comments from the public complaining about a certain thing and they don’t realize we have the one full-time paid responder," Dykast said. "They thought we had a bunch of paid people there. And they wonder why they don’t have a bunch of people on a call.”
He said local officials need to be more proactive in sharing with the community the department's successes and limitations.
Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/bpoehler
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This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Scio fire chief resigns amid community complaints