AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Aurora continues its nationwide search for a new fire chief. After a long process, it is now down to four finalists and community members had the chance Thursday night to meet each of them.
There is one internal candidate in the running and three from out of state. All four gathered at the Aurora Municipal Building for the 6 p.m. meet-and-greet as residents asked the tough questions.
Aurora Fire Rescue responds to thousands of emergencies across the city, saving lives and helping residents. Former Chief Fernando Gray Sr. retired last summer, which left the title of chief open.
4 candidates vying to become Aurora fire chief
Allen Robnett is the current interim chief of Aurora Fire Rescue and is now vying for the job. He has been with the department for the past 33 years and climbed the ladder, taking on numerous roles in the department.
“This is my home,” Robnett said. “Aurora Fire Rescue has been my entire adult life. I set out as a young firefighter looking to make a difference and I continue that pursuit.”
Richard Davis, assistant fire chief in Austin, Texas, is another finalist. Davis has been with that department for 30 years and wants to bring diversity to Aurora Fire Rescue, but he said with standards and principles.
“When you have a diverse workforce, you get input from various factions from the community, and you get a better understanding from the community. And you can provide better service for the community,” Davis said.
Another finalist is Alec Oughton, who is the current fire chief in Henrico County, Virginia. He said the department sizes in Virginia and Aurora are comparable in size and structure. He added that he wants to get into the community, hear from residents and lower response times.
“To hear the numbers from here, 17 fire stations are running about 70,000 calls. It’s an incredibly busy metropolitan area and that busyness impacts unit reliability, and that can impact response times,” Oughton said.
Pepper Valdez is another finalist and is the current fire chief in Billings, Montana. He takes pride in his creative and efficient leadership approach. Valdez told FOX31 it’s about budgeting right and taking care of firefighters, including their mental health.
“I enjoy not only serving the community but serving those who serve the people,” Valdez said. “Who takes care of the heroes, right? And that’s what I want to do.”
Although the four finalists come from various walks of life, they all agree that community relations, retention and diverse recruitment are top priorities.
Residents weigh in at Aurora meet-and-greet
FOX31 talked to several residents at the meet-and-greet, who shared what’s important to them in their next fire chief.
“I don’t think there’s enough community involvement. They need to get out and talk to the community and do more meetings in the community. They also need to be aware of those with special needs,” said Aurora resident Susan Tabacheck. “Are there programs coming?”
Lea Steed, Aurora resident and member of the NAACP’s Aurora branch, said, “I think the recruitment of younger people and people of color is important, and so is building trust.”
One finalist is expected to be chosen by the end of January, but Aurora City Council will have the final say in a majority vote that could happen in February.