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Fire Chief, Don ColfelsLake Chinook Fire Chief Resigns

Don Colfels cites lack of support from community leaders and on-the-job injury

By Holly Scholz, Madras Pioneer

Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Don Colfels is resigning from his position, citing an on-the-job injury and lack of support from current community leaders.

“I feel, in my opinion, the community leaders continue a relentless assault on the fire district and me personally continually trying to undermine the authority of the district and the chief,” Colfels stated in his April 30 letter of resignation.

Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Board President Bob Buckner said the board was “stunned” with Colfels’ resignation announcement.

“I and the other four board members do not want Don Colfels to resign,” Bucker said. “Our board is very satisfied with what he does.”

Colfels has been with the fire department and the fire district for 14 years, even before Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue became a district in 2008. The fire district serves the subdivisions of Rim Park, Forest Park, Airport Way and Three Rivers near Lake Billy Chinook as well as surrounding ranch lots and project lands, a 105-square-mile area.

Colfels has seen many changes during his tenure.

“I've witnessed members going above and beyond the call of duty sacrificing mind body and even at times their families to serve this community and those who visit here and call Lake Billy Chinook their home,” Colfels said, adding that the decision to resign was difficult but one he needed to make for himself.

When he accepted the position of fire chief, he had a vision and a desire to serve, to see the district grow and develop into a more modern effective and efficient fire department. His vision was to grow the department into a professional well-trained, well-equipped wildland, structure, all risk, emergency medical services agency. Colfels believes he has accomplished that task over the past decade.

“He’s saved lives, and he’s gotten grants, and I can’t say enough about how I support the man,” Buckner said, noting that he has served with Colfels for more than 10 years. “He is an excellent fire chief. He has brought many different things to the fire district out here.”

In February 2017, Colfels tore his labrum in his right arm while doing on-the-job training. Since the time of the labral tear, he has lost nearly all the strength in his right arm, making his daily job very difficult and painful, he said.

But, the lack of support from community leaders, he said, was the main reason for his resignation.

“It is unrealistic to think that a fire chief can effectively plan and move an organization forward when they are stuck performing five major day-to-day roles as fire chief, fire marshal, training officer, admin assistant and medic all while responding to calls, performing the daily tasks and managing all aspects of a department, all while leaders of the largest community in the district go out of the way to demote volunteerism while continually undermining fire district authority,” Colfels wrote in his letter.

He said a fire chief’s community’s success is based on competence, character, communications, job knowledge, support, resources, teamwork, collaboration and the ability for a community to accept authority and the jurisdiction having authority.

“Unfortunately, I do not believe the leaders of this community are ready to accept or provide these necessary characteristics to achieve community success,” Colfels said. “Due to lack of community leader support, the around the clock demands, poor pay, and unrealistic expectations of a fire chief for Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue, this role has taken a mental, physical and emotional toll on me.”

During the next month, Colfels will work with the board to try to find a replacement. He will work of his accrued vacation time and sick leave and would like the board to consider an equitable severance package. His last day is May 29.

The board president said Colfels is going to be hard to replace.

“It’s not a very high salary,” Buckner said. “I don’t know how we’re going to get anybody to replace him for his wage and what he does because he’s not only the fire chief, he’s the secretary. We rely on him for just about everything to come up with a positive and good solution.”

Courtesy Madras Pioneer

Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Don Colfels has resigned, effective May 29.

Don Colfels,
Fire Chief