INDEPENDENCE — Polk County Fire District No. 1 has a new fire chief. Capt. Ben Stange, 35, was named to the post by the board of directors at a meeting Friday.
The day he will start is yet to be determined, pending contract negotiations.
Stange was emotional about the decision, which came after three hours of candidate interviews in executive session. The board was unanimous in its choice to promote Stange, board chair Tom Snair said.
“It’s a role I’ve always wanted to serve, and I never expected for this opportunity to come this soon,” Stange said. “I’ve had a lot of admiration for Chief (Neal) Olson and Chief (Mike) Mayfield.”
Deputy chiefs Mayfield and Olson were the other two candidates forwarded to the board of directors for final interviews.
Two panels did the first round of interviews. One consisted of community members and the other was made up of professionals who work with the fire district on a regular basis
“They were told that they can select up to three candidates to forward to the board, and if they didn’t think anybody was good enough for the job, then they can say, ‘zero,’” Stange said.
He added that the fact that the panels recommended the maximum candidates to the board really spoke volumes for the depth of talent in the district.
Snair said the field of applicants — all internal — was competitive.
Stange started his journey at Polk No. 1 as a volunteer firefighter in 2000 while a student at Western Oregon University.
He said he did not plan to make it a career.
But the gratefulness of a father changed his perspective.
“I went on a call and the paramedic who was working said he needed an extra set of hands in the back,” Stange said.
They were on their way to the hospital, treating a young boy.
“I remember the father being so thankful,” Stange said. “Seeing that impact on him in a situation where, when we first showed up — and I’ve seen it so many times since then, but it was a new thing for me at the time — to see an adult father completely with no control over what to do in that situation, and then to be able to help him. It was powerful.”
Stange said he doesn’t have plans to completely revamp the district.
“I have a list of some things I could see doing, but one of the things I’m interested in is hearing from the other chief officers and the captains and the volunteers — what their lists are and see where ours match,” Stange said. “Because I’m certainly not going into this thinking that just because I was offered a tentative position, all of a sudden I have all the answers to every question. It wasn’t magically bestowed upon me.”
The past two recruitments to fill the fire chief position had been outside searches. Snair said he is glad the board decided to look inside the district for the new fire chief.