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Former U.S. Air Force firefighter/medic worked for the Department of Defense as a rescue firefighter

As the city's next fire chief, Gladstone has chosen Rick Huffman, who has more than 35 years of expRick Huffmanerience working in emergency response.

Huffman served seven years in the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter/medic, worked for the Department of Defense as a rescue firefighter (including as a member of the NASA Space Shuttle Rescue Team) and retired from Washington state's Vancouver Fire Department as a battalion chief after 23 years of service.

Huffman has pre-existing relationships with the city of Gladstone. Most recently as director of Concordia University's Center for Emergency Solutions, he has provided the Gladstone Fire Department with incident commander training and certification for the past two years.

"In addition to their training, I hosted and participated in the hiring process for their full-time staffing of fire captains," Huffman said. "During this time I met and admired the passion and abilities of the Gladstone firefighters."

Huffman was a longtime participant in the working group for regional fire response (under post-9/11 Homeland Security grants) and had extended relationships with most fire departments in the Portland area. He has collaborated many times with the Northwest Association of Fire Trainers that was led by Jeff Smith, Gladstone current interim fire chief.

"Jeff has an incredible history with the Gladstone Fire Department, and I appreciated his continuous positive comments of the city of Gladstone and the firefighters," Huffman said.

Former Fire Chief Tom O'Connor vacated the Gladstone position in August to take a job in Vancouver, Washington. Gladstone City Administrator Jacque Betz said that Huffman will be a great addition to the fire department, since his management style is relationship based.

"He is easy-going and really desires to develop a cooperative and collaborative working relationship with others," Betz said. "His focus will be on forming new relationships with the elected officials, employees and community."

New buildings

Huffman also will be busy with developing a blueprint to implement the recently adopted Gladstone Fire Department Strategic Plan, which called for increased space for firefighters to live at the fire station while on duty. Meanwhile, Gladstone is planning to tear down its current City Hall building, located next door to the fire station, in order to build a library. A new City Hall/police station is being constructed a few blocks away.

"As we get into the design phase of the new library, Rick will represent the fire department's interest in expanding its current facility to accommodate living quarters for the fire personnel," Betz said.

With regard to station remodeling and any fire-training facility in Gladstone, Huffman said such proposals would have to be evaluated and closely coordinated with city leadership.

"I say this because of the long history of the community of Gladstone. Open land and available space to support emerging needs will be an interesting challenge," he said. "I will promote the creative thinking of the fire department team and support innovated uses of new technologies."

Huffman considers himself ready to lead a city fire department, given he recently earned his MBA and has 38 years of experience as an emergency responder and chief officer.

"I was attracted to the job for a few reasons, some practical and some supported by life experiences," he said. "The practical reason is that Concordia University is shutting down the simulation and training facility (along with my position) and this prompted me to consider some life options."

'Excited' to be chief

In February, the city did an extensive interview process of four candidates for the fire chief position. As previously reported, the fire chief position was initially offered to Sandy Fire Division Chief Jason McKinnon, who in mid-March turned down the approximately $111,000 initial annual salary that Gladstone offered.

The City Council held an executive session March 25 to decide between two other finalists for the post. Huffman will make an initial annual salary of $107,280 as Gladstone's fire chief after the council voted unanimously April 30 to give him the position.

Huffman had passed extensive tests to obtain the job, including a medical exam and credit check. A formal background investigation by retired police Capt. Steve Swenson resulted in his recommendation "without reservation" that Huffman be hired.

"I'm excited to be joining the staff of the city of Gladstone because of the small town feel in the big city, the passion and support of the fire department by the community, and the professionalism I have seen in the Gladstone Fire Department members," Huffman said. "I look forward to evaluating and supporting the full-time firefighter staffing blended with the paid call firefighter staffing."

By "supporting," Huffman plans to look back at this fairly new blend and see what improvements are needed.

"This may be reflected in station remolding plans, training needs, paid call firefighter recruitment and logistical support," he said.

A key component of Huffman's vision as Gladstone's fire chief will be community preparedness.

"This will include not only training any citizen basic skills to help them during the time they're waiting for a 'normal' 911 response, but for improving readiness for natural disasters and other events," he said. 

Huffman lives in Ridgefield, Washington, with his wife, Julie. They have three grown daughters and three grandkids (with another on the way).


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