Thank You Keizer


As I was counting down my time here at Keizer Fire, the opportunity to pursue retirement became available and timely, and for the District to seek the next Fire Chief. My time in emergency services is 42 years with nearly fifteen years here at KFD. I am proud on my time and success in Keizer, as we went from nineteen career fire personnel to forty, we went from one paramedic ambulance to four. From mostly volunteer staffing to mostly career personnel. I am proud to say that I leave the District in a solid financial position and fully staffed. There is work to do moving forward, and our recent work with consultants has helped clarify the path ahead. 

Since there are questions being asked, I want to clarify the process and timing. In the fall of 2021, and emerging from our pandemic years, I recognized the extreme workload on our people and the need for change in our operations and executive leadership. I recommended against a staffing proposal by the union, which the Fire District Board supported, but I also recommended to the board that the Keizer Fire District begin a process of review in the form of an Organizational Audit of the culture and operations of Keizer Fire. 

The purpose of the review of operations was to address the work conditions and issues, address possible staffing solutions, and suggest a path moving forward that would ensure the continued safe provision of services to the residents of Keizer. The staffing proposal from the union was one of the options considered. With regard to the cultural issues, the remote work of the administrative staff was affecting consistent leadership, and the excessive workload of staff was taking its toll on relationships and trust.  The district needed to address and resolve those issues. 

People may hear audit and think only of financial auditing numbers. My recommendations were for expert consultants to address the staffing and organizational model of the district and to address the workload and mental stress, experienced by our personnel through the COVID years. Keizer Fire District does Financial Audits annually in accordance with the requirements of the State of Oregon and has had annual clean audit reports accounting for every penny for the last 15 years. 

The organizational review plan was to evaluate and identify all aspects for the operations for the fire district in terms of staffing, performance, policy, and procedures, etc. The KFD Board of Directors supported my request to obtain these consultant-generated reports. We expected that the reports would help clarify the next steps for KFD. 

This plan returned two reports, one on culture, and the other for operations. As with any consultant provided performance evaluation, it provided a working list of areas to improve performance for the district. Unfortunately, both reports contained inaccuracies and errors, referenced issues long ago resolved, and were caught up in the union strategy for their preferred staffing structure and other negotiation issues for the upcoming contract negotiations. They did however identify the need for broader and long-range strategic plan.

A strategic plan is a long range (five years or more) tool which can take a year or more to create and lays out a road map for the future and must be approved by the voters of Keizer Fire District. Our plan would require a long-term leader to address the need for personnel, equipment, and funding, including a New Fire Station Plan as we have outgrown our current Fire Station. Our station must be enlarged in a remodel to accommodate our needs, or we need an additional fire station. Either necessary option would require additional taxpayer approval. Given the need for a long-term process, and the planning needs of a new fire station; this is a job for a long-term fire chief and the next fire chief should come from outside the district. 

Thank you for the honor and privilege to be your Fire Chief. It remains one of the greatest gifts in my life except for being a dad. I thank you for the community support to help me raise my sons in this wonderful town. I move on now to pursue spending more time with my family and friends, and community service. I leave the Fire District on good terms and in good hands. 

(Jeff Cowan was chief of the Keizer Fire District from 2007 to 2022.)