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SELMA – After being sworn in at the Feb. 4 Selma City Council meeting as Selma’s Fire Chief, Rob Petersen introduced new hires and promotions within the department. He thanked his crew, his wife, City staff and their families for their support during the transition.

“Everybody’s been extremely supportive and helpful as I’ve gotten acclimated in taking on this new challenge,” he said. “I want to thank all the families here tonight showing their support. We all know this job has its stressful moments. Our schedules can be difficult. We’re away several days at a time, and during the summer we’re away for several weeks at a time. We could not truly be successful in what we do without your support and understanding,” Petersen said.

Petersen said he was proud to protect his hometown residents as their Fire Chief and credited his father, Randy Petersen, and a great uncle for their example of sacrifice.

“I just found I’m not the first Petersen to be the Fire Chief here. My great uncle, Ernie Petersen, was a Fire Chief in 1962. As a kid, I always remembered dad taking off out of the house to respond to a fire, or any other type of major emergency. It didn’t matter if he was off duty or not.” His goal now is to emulate that commitment, he said.

Petersen added that one of the most exciting things he’s done so far is offer career opportunities to new crew members while promoting long-standing members already employed with the department.

“We’ve been able to promote captains, promote engineers and hire three new firefighters and promote a fire marshal. Each of these events provides a new challenge for our personnel to undertake. I’m excited to introduce them to you tonight.” Here is a list of those promotions and hires:

Captains

Eric Beasley: Beasley has been with the SFD for 12 years and is involved with investigations. He has single-handedly managed all our fire prevention duties. He’s been a valuable mentor to our new fire marshal. He’s been able to do this while also managing responsibilities as a brand-new captain.

Debbie Rowe: Rowe will be with the SFD for 15 years. She’s involved with their health and wellness committee and manages the department’s computerized training assignments.

Fabian Uresti: Uresti’s been with SFD for 18 years as a paramedic. He’s currently assigned to the training division.

Will Blackwell: A 17-year veteran with the SFD, Blackwell manages their SEBA inventory/packs. He tests those to ensure the packs are in compliance. He also helps manage their computerized reporting system.

Matt Peters: Peters has been on staff for 14 years and is also a paramedic. He’s assigned to work as a fire investigator.

Fire Marshal

Anthony Rivas: He now works full-time and started in October. He’s responsible for plan checking and works closely with local businesses and contractors. He’s taken it on very admirably. He started this with little experience and is taking classes and working with his mentor to gain the knowledge and skills he needs to perform the job. He’s been with us for 10 years working as a paramedic.

Engineers

“The engineers’ duties involve operating our apparatus, getting it to the scene and putting water on the fire. They have to be proficient in all these activities and working with pumps so we can have safe operations at a fire. They’re also at the point in a firefighter’s career where they take on leadership responsibilities, especially in absence of a captain,” Petersen said.

Donavon Fullner: Fullner’s been with the department six years, is also assigned to the training division and plans to start an Explorer Program for Selma.

Ceasar Luna: A 13-year SFD employee, Luna works as a fire investigator. He has a very valuable background in mechanics and construction work. His talents have been invaluable over the years. He’s also in charge of ordering and managing our equipment inventory.

New firefighters

Jessie Gomez: Hired in August, Gomez has 13 years of experience working with Cal Fire. He’s part of the SFD’s equipment committee and is working in their training division.

Tyson Johnson: Hired full-time in September, Johnson’s been working with the SFD as an intern and volunteered as he’s completing his EMT schooling and working for American Ambulance. He’s in the process of completing his paramedic certification.

Luis Arana: Hired in November, Arana has 15 years of experience as a reserve firefighter with Firebaugh and eight years with American Ambulance as a paramedic.

District elections

In other matters, Selma’s City Council also discussed the need to move to district elections rather than its current at-large system. City Attorney Bianca Sparks Rojas explained the need to meet California Voting Rights Acts requirements.

“The thought has been that at-large elections result in legislative bodies that do not represent the diversity of the community,” she said. Even though Selma’s Council is diverse and representative of the city’s population, the City could still be challenged with a lawsuit.

“Members of a protected class are able to file a lawsuit,” she said of the potential for the city to be sued. Even if the Council takes steps to make the transition, if they receive a letter alleging Voting Rights Act violations, the “city is liable to the prospective plaintiffs for reimbursement of the costs to send the initial notice, in an amount up to $30,000.”

Five public hearings must be held, including two for public input before new district maps are even drawn up. The City meanwhile will need to explain the process and reason for the need to move to districts at informational meetings.

A demographer will need to be hired to create maps with various possible district boundaries. The public will also get to submit ideas for what they feel are appropriate boundaries for the election districts. A number of different factors are taken into account as the districts are created.

Council will also need to decide which seats would be up for election next since the council usually has three seats, then two seats come up for a vote.

“We have to listen to what the residents say about how they feel the elections should be sequenced,” Rojas said. “A lot of times, when you have districts that have historically disenfranchised, they want those elections to take place during a presidential election because historically the turnout is much higher.”

As of yet, the City has not received a letter alleging it’s in violation of the state’s Voting Rights Act, Rojas said. Council directed staff to move toward hiring a demographer and start the districting process.

Other matters

City Council also made three appointments to fill vacancies on two commissions – personnel and planning. Balwinder Sekhon will serve on the Planning Commission until 2021 and Joel Fedor will serve on Planning until 2020. Daniel Serimian was appointed to serve on the Personnel Commission until 2021.

Council also heard a presentation by Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Officer David Fey. Such commissions exist in each of the state’s 58 counties. They’re tasked with reviewing proposals for the formation of new local governmental agencies and for changes in the organization of existing agencies, such as when a city wishes to change its sphere of influence or annex land.

Since Selma’s leaders are looking to grow the city, Fey came to explain his role as he guides Selma and Fresno County’s other surrounding 14 cities through growth so they don’t overlap each other.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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