When Clark County Fire District 6 announced a change in leadership several months ago, soon-to-be Fire Chief Kristan Maurer said she wanted the top spot there, and nowhere else.
“I grew up here. They took care of me. Fire District 6 gave me opportunity and an education. I want to use that experience to move us in a positive direction. Using (my experience) to go somewhere else wouldn’t feel right,” said Maurer in an early December interview at Station 61, on Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue.
Maurer is set to become fire chief on New Year’s Day. Current Fire Chief Jerry Green, Assistant Chief Shawn Newberry and Maurer started transitioning and training for the change in September.
Green is retiring at the end of the year after serving as the fire chief for more than a decade.
Green said he wholeheartedly supports the Fire District 6 Board of Commissioners’ decision to appoint Maurer, whose abilities to oversee and improve the fire district have been taking shape for years.
“She knows where she’d like to see us go,” Green said.
Maurer was hired at Fire District 6 in 1999, at the age of 25. She “worked the line” as a firefighter for 17 years, spending time at all of the district’s stations. She said she loved being a first responder and described her stint on the frontline as some of the best times of her career.
However, she always knew she would end up in an administrative role. Maurer completed the Executive Fire Officer Program through the National Fire Academy, and has a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration and a master’s degree in public administration.
She’ll also be serving among only 50 female fire chiefs nationwide. There are 14,000 female firefighters in the country, which makes up about 5 percent of the entire profession, according to the fire district.
Maurer said she feels honored to be among the small group of fire chiefs. Over her career, she’s kept an eye on women in her profession and their contributions, particularly Rhoda Mae Kerr, who served as the Austin, Texas, fire chief for nine years.
“She just seemed very well respected and was someone I could look up to,” Maurer said.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything differently to prepare myself versus what a male candidate would have done, but I feel privileged to be among the small percentage of women who have achieved this rank,” she said.
Moving forward, Maurer’s top priority is to have healthy firefighters — well trained, well prepared and well protected, she said.
“My job is to keep the responders healthy so they can keep the community healthy,” she said.
The International Association of Fire Fighters reports that about 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics have experienced PTSD. That can have tragic results. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation estimates that suicide is three times more likely to happen among fire personnel than a line-of-duty death.
Fire District 6 started a peer support program two years ago to help its employees who may be suffering from PTSD, or who may have had an emotional or intense day, Maurer said. In May, the fire district participated in the national event “Those Left Behind,” which is an observance of firefighters who have died by suicide. Fire engines at all stations were parked outside, and for one minute, all engine and truck lights were turned on.
More recently, Maurer has been looking into ways to protect her staff from cancer risks. For example, moving gear away from diesel-powered fire trucks and into separate rooms, she said.
There are a number of building projects Maurer is leading, too. She planned the land acquisition and construction of the new Station 63 at 1119 N.E. 136th St. Construction started around Labor Day 2018 and was completed this year. The original station only housed one company — two to four people, depending on the kind of apparatus they use — and now houses two companies. The extra space means fewer limits with staffing.
The fire district is constantly watching and evaluating the growth of its service area, which includes Hazel Dell, Lake Shore, Felida, Salmon Creek, the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds and Mount Vista, a 67-square-mile area with a population of about 67,000 residents.
“The Hazel Dell area is pretty steady now. It’s full up, compared to the northern areas of our district. We share a boundary with Clark County Fire & Rescue, and we work together with them to make sure it’s equitable to all taxpayers in both areas,” Maurer said.
Next fall, the fire district will be looking at running another campaign for a levy lid lift, Maurer said. The current rate is $1.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value. It’s possible to raise the rate to $1.50, she said. While Maurer said she isn’t sure what kind of increase the fire district’s board of commissioners would support, the community has always supported their efforts. The extra funds would help pay for upgrades to Station 61, which is not seismically sound.
Additionally, call volumes continue to increase, so maintaining the same level of services will take more or reworked resources, according to the fire district.
In 2017, the fire district responded to 7,114 calls for service. Last year, it responded to 7,196 calls. By the end of November this year, there had been 8,072 calls for service.