Dominick “Nick” Swinhart was hired as the new chief for KP Fire District 16 by the board of fire commissioners at their biweekly meeting April 12. He will start the job May 16, succeeding Fire Chief Dustin Morrow, who left the district Dec. 1 after two-and-a-half years to run West Pierce Fire & Rescue.
Swinhart, 52, has been in the fire service 33 years. He was fire chief of the Camas-Washougal Fire Department for almost 11 years until resigning in March. He simultaneously served as chief of a neighboring fire district for three years. He has a bachelor’s degree in EMS management and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.
“We’re very pleased that Nick accepted our offer and wants to come here,” said Fire Commission Chair Stan Moffett. “We had a very good array of applicants and the six finalists we went through and panel-interviewed were all very good candidates. There were several reasons we picked Nick: he has been a fire chief for 10 years, he wants to be here, he’s very well educated, that comes across when talking with him, and I think that was something that separated him from the others.”
Moffett said the board was also impressed by Swinhart’s administrative experience combining the two fire departments of Camas and Washougal, though it was not the deciding factor.
“He was there and involved when they put the Camas fire department together with Washougal,” Moffett said. “Camas basically being a city with mostly a career staff, Washougal basically being a district with mostly volunteers. That’s another thing we wanted — somebody that had that experience because we’re a combination department and that’s very important to us.”
“That (merging) was not why we chose him, however if something like that should come to fruition — and this is just speculation — in the next five, six, seven, eight years (for KPFD 16), that experience would be very good for us,” he said.
“I think the most important thing is we’ve got a lot of healing to do within our district; we’ve had a lot of things go on in the last eight, nine months. We need to get all our personnel issues resolved and put behind us,” Moffett said.
The department has experienced controversy in recent months after two large real estate purchases in Key Center that caught the public by surprise; by investigations into allegations of inappropriate personnel behavior; and substantial equipment and overtime expenses, all during unexpected changes in department leadership.
(See “KPFD Confronts Budget Crunch and Skeptical Residents,” March 2022, and “Assistant Fire Chief Wolverton Exonerated, Returned to Duty,” April 2022.)
The KP firefighters union also had members on the interview panels, said IAFF Local 3152 President Lt. Doug Gelsleichter.
“We are in support of the chief that the commissioners selected, and we have confidence that he’ll do good for the community and the KP fire department,” Gelsleichter said. “(Swinhart) had good labor relations with Local 2444, which is the Clark County professional firefighters union. We did have a couple of concerns, and we actually met with him, and he cleared them up.”
“There are a lot of challenges the organization is facing but none of them are insurmountable,” Swinhart said. “I think that with a few key things being addressed I fully expect this organization can come back around in its relationship with the community and with itself that is a lot better than what they’ve been dealing with in the recent past.”
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