The board of the Smith Valley Fire Department voted to approve Jill Cheman as the new chief Sunday. The previous chief, Doug Scarff, resigned a few days earlier, according to Cheman.
The change of leadership comes following what Cheman described as a contentious relationship between Scarff and the Smith Valley board, as well as ongoing friction with the City of Kalispell’s Fire Department over mutual aid. On Jan. 26, the Beacon reported comments by Scarff and West Valley Fire Chief Rodney Dresbach critical of Kalispell Chief Dan Diehl’s response to a string of recent fires where the city did not call on the two adjacent rural departments to respond, instead calling other departments as far away as Bigfork or Columbia Falls.
Cheman said a key priority of her leadership role will be to improve relations with Kalispell, and that most of the Smith Valley firefighters and board members did not agree with the statements by the two rural chiefs in the Beacon’s story.
“Most of us did not support Doug Scarff’s position or Rodney Dresbach’s,” Cheman said. “I have every intention of trying to resolve this issue so that we are called for mutual aid.”
“I have 100 percent support of the board, 100 percent support of the firefighters under me right now,” she added. “Our first mission is life safety and protection of property – not politics.”
Calls to Scarff’s cellular phone resulted in a message that the line was no longer in service. Dresbach is leaving his post in West Valley to take a position as fire chief and fire warden in Eastern Montana.
Cheman said Scarff’s departure will allow Smith Valley Fire to renew its relationships, not only with Kalispell, but other departments, like Evergreen.
“We support cooperation among all agencies,” she added. “We’re looking to go in a very positive direction with all this.”
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