Election for open SHFAD Board seat draws experienced candidates

The single competitive race in this year’s election on May 18 for the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance Board of Directors is for Position 4, which is being vacated by the resignation of Don Hopkins, who has served 50 years on the board.

Candidates for the position are Brock Cota, Kenneth A. Weld and Rob Younger.

Incumbent Dawn Mitchell is unchallenged for the Position 5 seat.

Ballots were mailed to voters April 28, who need to return them by May 11.

Cota did not submit responses to questions.

Rob Younger

Younger, 67, has lived in Sweet Home for 41 years after arriving to teach and coach at Sweet Home High School.

In addition to coaching football from 1975 to 2013, as well as other sports, he served as vice principal and athletics director at the high school and principal at Crawfordsville School at various points during his 30 years with the district.

For the past 11 years he has served as director of the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association, which serves coaches in all high school classifications throughout Oregon.

He has bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in education from Oregon State University and earned an administrative certificate from the University of Oregon.

He served as a volunteer with the Sweet Home Fire Department and then with SHFAD from 1984 to 2008, retiring as a lieutenant.

He is also a board member at Community Chapel.

He and his wife, of 33 years, Karen, have nine children and in-laws, and 19 grandchildren.

Kenny Weld

Weld, 49, was born and raised in Sweet Home, where he has lived for most of his life.

He is a 1990 graduate of Sweet Home High School and earned paramedic certification from Northwest Medical Training in Portland, EMT 1 and 2 certification from Linn-Benton Community College, and was trained as a firefighter at Chemeketa Community College.

He served from 1990-98 with the Albany Fire Department as a paramedic/firefighter, then started as a volunteer in Sweet Home, where he was hired by SHFAD in 2001.

He was promoted to lieutenant, then captain and later to battalion chief. Weld retired from SHFAD in 2014, after 24 years in the fire service. He currently drives a log truck for Chris Kisselburgh Trucking of Sweet Home.

During his years as a firefighter, Weld was involved with AFSCME Union negotiations and also helped shift union representation to IAFF for Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District. He acted as president for Local 4436 IAFF Union until he was promoted to battalion chief at SHFAD.

He has served as a youth coach in various sports and was head wrestling coach at Sweet Home Junior High for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He has been a volunteer with the Oregon Jamboree and serves at Holley Church as a youth teacher, in church security and as a greeter.

The youngest son of Alfred and Barbara Weld, he and his wife Angela have been married for 25 years and have four children.

Below are candidates’ responses to questions we posed to them:

Why do you want to be a SHFAD Board member?

Kenny Weld: I am wanting to be a SHFAD Board member to help guide the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District for future growth towards better community involvement and service. I envision the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Board members working closely with other community leaders to create and establish positive working relationships within the community.

Rob Younger: A great attribute of the Sweet Home community is the numerous individuals who serve the community through volunteering and serving others. At this time in my personal and professional careers, I feel it important to and can give back to the Fire District, which provided so many positive experiences and relationships while I was a volunteer for 23 years. 

What sets you apart as a candidate for SHFAD voters?

Rob Younger: Having been a volunteer SHFAD Firefighter for 23 years and serving on the SHFAD Budget Committee, I have a solid background and the needed experience that has prepared me for the Board of Directors.

Having served on local, state and national Boards of Directors, I have an understanding on how a Board should function and work in a partnership with the staff and working employees.

Kenny Weld: I have over 24 years of overall experience in the Fire Service. I have experienced the Fire Service as a volunteer, as a paid employee and as a community member.

With this experience I believe that I have a wide perspective of what the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District has accomplished and what this district still needs assistance with. I have seen the growth of this district with its community, employees and the area it serves, and I would like to help guide its continued future growth.

What would you consider your primary responsibility/ies to voters as a fire board member if you are elected?

Kenny Weld: My greatest responsibility would be to the public that the fire district it serves and to the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance employees. This would include:

– Employees and volunteers having access to the best trainings available to improve fire and medic skills;

– Using existing funds in the most efficient pathways;

– Investigating new funding opportunities;

– Encouraging public and volunteer involvement in both the fire board and the fire department; and

– Creating positive and productive working relationships with other community leaders and members.

Rob Younger: A Fire Department is a “People Business!” Thus, first and foremost, the top priority is to hire and maintain an excellent leader as your fire chief. Then, as a board, you work with the chief and his leadership team in providing the resources that allow them to best serve the community of Sweet Home. 

What do you think are the particular challenges that need to be addressed in fire district?

Rob Younger: To maintain the financial resources in the coming years that allows our Fire District to maintain the high level of service that they presently provide.  

Kenny Weld: The biggest challenge for this fire district would be serving the district with its current funding. The funding that is in place now does not reflect the rising call volumes and this creates a personnel challenge at times. This fire district relies heavily on their volunteer base to cover gaps in personnel during active medical and fire/rescue calls.

Currently, volunteer staffing levels are very low and there is a great need for volunteers. Another challenge is keeping the equipment and fire apparatus current to present medical and fire standards with the funding available. Keeping with present standards can be quite costly and sometimes has been unattainable due to budget limitations.

To help with retaining volunteers, I would help promote current recruiting efforts to ensure year-round awareness for the need of volunteers in the fire department. In regard to the budget limitations, I would look to other small fire departments in rural communities for guidance and possible solutions for this continued concern.

A lot of fire board work revolves around funding. In general, how do you view the district’s performance in this area? If you would like to change anything, how would you do so?

Kenny Weld: With the current budget (tax base), I feel that the fire board is using and allocating the funds to the best of their abilities. The future challenge is how to keep the highest level of service with the current funding based on the current assessed tax values in the community.

Question is, how do we raise fire district funds if the assessed tax values stay the same? Additional funds have historically come in the form of fire bonds that the community has voted on and passed into effect.

Most people move to Sweet Home for the small town experience, but for Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District to continue to serve our community members in the highest standards, the community of Sweet Home must look to adding more industry, but in a way to keep Sweet Home’s small town spirit intact.

Rob Younger: Through my involvement on the SHFAD Budget Committee, I have been impressed with how the department’s leadership team plans not only for the needed resources for the coming year, but projecting out for future years also. 

What other improvements would you like to see to SHFAD’s operations/personnel/services?

Rob Younger: Continue to hire quality individuals to fill positions as they come open, individuals who understand and respect what makes our community so special. 

Kenny Weld: I would like to see more community involvement in the form of increasing the number of fire department volunteers. Currently, there are three substations located in the communities of Crawfordsville, Foster and Cascadia and the main station located in Sweet Home.

The main station has paid personnel on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to cover incoming medical calls and a crew to cover primary fire and/or rescue calls but the medical, fire and rescue paid staff are in need of more personnel in the form of volunteers.

These volunteers provide services like driving the fire apparatus, driving the ambulance, fighting fire, clean-up or mop-up crews after a fire, directing traffic while responding to a car wreck, and water rescues in the local rivers and lakes.

These are just some examples of the critical services our volunteer personnel offer to the community while supporting our paid personnel. These volunteers are a crucial element to continue the level of service that the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District provides to our community every day.

In addition to any of the issues already touched on, what do you consider the biggest challenge(s) facing SHFAD? As briefly as possible, how would you address it/those?

Rob Younger: We are living in a challenging and changing world. As an organization we need to be open and willing to change in a positive and productive way. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.”

I am proud to be on the ballot with two outstanding young men. Having the opportunity to coach both of them, I can attest to their outstanding character and willingness to lead. SHFAD wins no matter who is elected to serve on the Board of Directors.