LIHUE — Nearly a year and a half into the search for a new fire chief, the Kauai County Fire Commission is essentially starting again from scratch.
The Kauai Fire Department has been without a chief for nine months following the retirement of Robert Westerman after 20 years with the KFD. The search for Westerman’s replacement began months before he stepped down.
The commission posted a revised job description online last week, which advertises a higher annual salary and looser minimum requirements than before.
The new fire chief will be paid $137,000 a year, a $10,000 increase from previous job postings made possible by a resolution approved by the county council earlier this year, which raised the maximum annual salaries for most county government department heads, effective July 1.
Perhaps more significant are changes to the job description that allow firefighters without a college degree to qualify for the position.
The newly-revised posting, which has been on multiple job search websites since Sept. 9, removed a paragraph from the job description that said candidates with a bachelor’s degree in fire science or administration who also held several certifications, “are highly desirable.”
The new job posting still asks for applicants with college degrees, but contains a caveat saying, “years of experience as a Deputy Fire Chief, Assistant Chief, fire Captain and Battalion Chief will also be considered.”
Office of Boards and Commissions Administrator Ellen Ching said Monday that the decision to change the job description came after two retired fire chiefs addressed the fire commission at its June meeting to express concerns that their applications hadn’t been considered because they didn’t hold four-year degrees.
Ching did not disclose the identities of the former chiefs who testified but said their names would be in the minutes of the commission’s June meeting. They were not.
Deputy Chief Kilipaki Vaughan appears to be one logical choice for the job. As deputy, Vaughan ranks second in command to the chief, is familiar with the job and has said in the past that the two positions are virtually identical as far as day-to-day tasks are concerned. He also meets the job’s educational criteria.
According to Vaughan’s LinkedIn profile, he earned multiple degrees from University of Hawaii schools — a bachelor of arts in political science, a master’s in business administration and a law degree.
The only qualification Vaughan does not meet is a stipulation in the county charter that requires the fire chief to have a minimum of five years training and experience in fire prevention, “at least three years of which shall have been in a responsible administrative capacity.”
Vaughan has been with the KFD for 13 years but was not appointed to his current “administrative” position until November 2016, meaning he is two months shy of the three-year mark.
When asked why the job has not been offered to Vaughan, Ching said, “Good question. No comment.”
In an email Monday, a county spokesperson declined to comment “more than what has been posted in the job description.” When asked whether any candidates are being considered, the spokesperson said, “this is a brand new search.”
The job application deadline is Oct. 11.