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Fire chief finalist outlines challenges

Farmington Fire Chief finalist Justin Elvestad talked with the audience of mostly firefighters during a one hour meet-and-greet Jan. 4, 2018, inside council chambers. Kara Hildreth / contributor

Farmington Acting Fire Chief Justin Elvestad answered questions in the hot seat during the meet-and-greet session Jan. 4.

Elvestad took questions from fellow firefighters, the public, elected officials and media inside the council chambers after taking part in a second round of interviews with city department heads to become the fire chief.

The city received 38 applications and conducted five interviews as part of the recruitment process. Elvestad is the sole finalist. Former Farmington Fire Chief Jim Larsen resigned Nov. 3. As an assistant fire chief, the city appointed Elvestad as the interim fire chief and acting fire chief.

Farmington City Administrator David McKnight said the final decision on hiring should be made this week.

First 100 days

Farmington Mayor Todd Larson asked Elvestad how he foresees he would invest his time as the new fire chief.

"My first 100 days, I would reach out to our mutual aid partners and dispatch center and look at our response plan that is good, but I think in the long term we need to look at something a little bit different for our dispatch center for ease," he said.

"I would meet with every single firefighter and figure out what their expectations of me as fire chief, the expectations of the city and as a fire department, and see how we align and see if I am realistic and see if they are realistic," Elvestad said.

Farmington Councilor Robyn Craig asked Elvestad what would he keep the same, what he would change, and why.

"The way we respond is working really well right now and we show up and everyone knows what they need to do and so that is working very well for us. But we have a lot of outdated guidelines that we have been operating under," Elvestad said.

"Right now, these guys do not know which ones to follow and which ones to not," he added. "We need to improve with our incident command structure to be more in line with mutual aid partners."

Describing a model called the Blue Card, Elvestad said training needs to be more clearly defined.

"The Blue Card is an incident command training or how we manage our command officers and firefighters on the fire ground and keep track of them, the way the county and state agencies are operating like our mutual aid partners and we need to be at least training and certifying firefighters in this," Elvestad said.

Career preparation

Voicing how he has prepared to become the fire chief, Elvestad said he always took advantage of every bit of training available when he held any position within the fire department.

"I started early on in my career of getting certifications that I thought would be required of the job and I always went to extra training because I wanted to be the best at what I was doing because when I was a firefighter," he said.

"I wanted to be the best firefighter I could be, and when I became lieutenant, I wanted to be the best lieutenant I could be."

About three years ago in March, the Farmington City Council decided to employ a full-time chief. This decision meant the laying off of the fire marshal. Today many fire marshal duties are contracted with the city of Lakeville.

"The duties of the vacated fire marshal need to be filled and that is a priority for our department; however, that can be done through a fire marshal, an assistant chief, a fire inspector or a firefighter fire inspector, and those are all things that I have to look at that would be the best benefit to the city," Elvestad said.

Fire marshal job duties include fire inspections, planned review and public education.

Farmington City Councilor Terry Donnelly what he thinks would be the toughest part of the job as the new fire chief.

"One of my biggest concern is losing a firefighter, so we need to have a plan in place and really work on better procedures for rehab, for cancer prevention and really stick to those policies and procedures," Elvestad said.

"That is one of my biggest fears— not the biggest fire in the world — but that something can happen with one of our people and I now have to be responsible. We need to be very proactive and move toward policies that prevent this."

Donnelly asked Elvestad if realizes there is downside to being a hometown boy and is he prepared for that?"

"When the pager goes off, we need to get along and I am the boss and I need to make the decisions and I think I can separate it, and most of the people I have grown up with and are on this department, I will hold them just as accountable as everybody else if not more," Elvestad said.