Dismissing investigation, state fire agency retains Youngberg
A former Columbia River Fire and Rescue division chief who was the subject of an internal investigation that found he harassed, intimidated and endangered staff members continues to serve with the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office as a volunteer with a statewide incident management team.
Ron Youngberg, who retired in February 2016 on the heels of an internal investigation that yielded a 73-page report documenting inappropriate behavior throughout his 25-year career with CRFR, is serving with the State Fire Marshal's office via a Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department sponsorship.
As a volunteer with the statewide incident management team, which is charged with providing support statewide — or even nationwide — during conflagrations or other emergency incidents in which local fire resources are overwhelmed, there is a possibility Youngberg could be assigned to work with the CRFR or Scappoose Rural Fire District firefighters and paramedics who collaboratively filed numerous workplace complaints against him, which are documented in the investigative report.
Regardless, Richard Hoover, a spokesman for the state office, said the agency would take no action to either review or validate findings in the investigative report.
A full copy of the Youngberg report was leaked to the Spotlight, and the newspaper has since released an online version of the report that has been redacted to protect the names of whistleblowers and victims identified in it.
Hoover stated that the State Fire Marshal's office "… was aware that there were internal issues around the time of Chief Youngberg's retirement," and that it had no involvement in the investigation as it was a "local issue."
Hoover also indicated he had some familiarity with the investigative report. He referenced an Aug. 10, 2016, decision by former Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison that the report was protected by attorney-client privilege and that CRFR was not required to release it to the public.
"As the report is covered under attorney-client privilege, we have not reviewed the report nor do we intend to," Hoover stated.
Despite that ruling, there is nothing preventing State Fire Marshal's office officials from reading the report as it now appears online.
Hoover also said Youngberg's volunteer service with the State Fire Marshal's office, which spans more than 16 years, has been without incident.
"Ron Youngberg has never been the subject of disciplinary action or investigation as it relates to his time on, or mobilization with, the Incident Management Teams," he said.
Though findings from the report were provided to former CRFR top administrators, including Youngberg's supervisor, former Fire Chief Jay Tappan, Youngberg remained with the St. Helens-based fire department for nearly a month without any disciplinary action imposed against him. He ultimately retired effective Feb. 1, 2016.
Because Youngberg retired, hence avoiding likely discipline as a result of findings in the investigative report, CRFR administrators bypassed reporting misconduct alleged in the report to the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
DPSST has no moral fitness standards for fire certification. Still, a DPSST investigation would likely have been triggered had Youngberg been fired for cause, a rules and compliance coordinator with the agency said.
Youngberg's file with DPSST show no incidents of disciplinary action against him.
Youngberg and the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The CRFR firefighters union declined comment.
Incident Management Team work
Youngberg is currently on an active list of nearly 100 fire agency officials who make up three mobilization teams through the State Fire Marshal's office. Current CRFR Division Chiefs Ian O'Connor and Dave Coombs are also on the state roster, but serve on different teams than Youngberg.
The number of mobilizations that take place each year can vary, Hoover said. On average, teams are called up three times a year, but some years have seen no mobilizations, he explained.
Youngberg is currently listed as a trainee for a deputy incident commander role with the state fire agency. As of this month, he had not completed the necessary certifications to serve in that role. To qualify as a deputy incident commander, an applicant must commit to at least three years of service and complete all required courses.
DPSST records show Youngberg's firefighting and wildland fire certifications expired Dec. 31. The State Fire Marshal's Office does not require any active DPSST certifications for deputy incident commanders, however.