New head of Sonoma County’s fire services department takes reins

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A Monterey consultant will run Sonoma County’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services for the next six months while county and fire officials work on multiple fronts to reshape countywide fire service operations.

Jim Colangelo started Tuesday as interim director, replacing outgoing Sonoma County Fire Chief Al Terrell, who was under increasing scrutiny regarding his running of the department and leadership of the county’s complex, outdated and underfunded fire services network. Terrell announced his resignation in April for July 31, prior to a contract review by county supervisors.

Colangelo’s expected tenure will be brief, about six months, during which county supervisors will decide whether they need a new county fire chief or if the department will shrink, offloading its firefighting support duties to another agency.

His government career includes 10 years as Monterey County’s chief assistant administrator and three years as city manager for Pacific Grove. He spent 18 months as a Sonoma County consultant reviewing how to streamline and financially support the area’s nearly 40 public fire agencies.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins praised the 58-year-old Colangelo’s hire, saying he has earned fire officials’ respect by learning the complicated, historical details and tangled politics involved.

The $10 million department he takes over has some 24 employees and oversees hazardous materials, rural fire prevention, emergency services and administration of the county’s shrinking number of volunteer fire companies, now down to 11.

Hopkins said she’s anticipating Colangelo’s department review.

“There are questions regarding expenditures. He’ll go over those expenditures with a fine-toothed comb and make sure expenses are justified,” she said. “That’s a necessary step in my opinion.”

Later this summer the department expects to begin taking bids from Cal Fire or local fire districts for the job of administering the volunteer companies, a move that would greatly reduce the county department’s footprint and eliminate the need for a county fire chief.

Colangelo also will try to bring home a $115,000 study commissioned by the county to assess the abilities of fire departments countywide that remains overdue and incomplete. So far, about $86,000 has been paid but county officials are withholding the latest payment and have sent a formal letter demanding the study’s completion, threatening to demand reimbursement of some of the cost. More than 300 pages have been delivered but included logistical mistakes and a lack of definitive findings.

The Monterey County resident has been working between the two counties but said he’ll now relocate to Sonoma County temporarily for the extended job.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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