The Orange County Fire Authority has hired as permanent chief Jeffrey R. Bowman, who in September became interim chief after the prior leader was forced to retire.
The Fire Authority’s board selected Bowman Thursday as it continues to overhaul the upper echelons of an agency beset by political infighting and management failures in recent years.
Bowman, who served 16 years as chief of the Anaheim Fire Department and four years as chief of the city of San Diego Fire Department, brings a wealth of high-level experience to the job overseeing the agency’s 71 stations and 1,300 staff.
“We have seen chief Bowman in action, and I can speak for the entire board when I say he has our full vote of confidence to continue the job he started,” said Al Murray, chairman of the independent Fire Authority’s 25-person board, in a statement.
“I came here to help create significant short-term initiatives, a solid planning process and to get the ball rolling,” said Bowman in a statement. “I’m now able to be part of developing a long-term planning strategy that will address a change in culture and guides us to where we want the organization to be in several years.”
Bowman, who has been living in Escondido and operating a boutique winery there, came aboard as the Fire Authority management was imploding after five years with Chief Keith Richter at the helm.
In May, a management audit commissioned to examine Richter’s performance found "a lack of accountability" at all levels of the Fire Authority. The audit, done by Costa Mesa-based Management Partners Inc., cited ineffective leadership, poor morale, and mishandling of discipline and staffing.
Interviews and records uncovered since the audit's release go further in showing a flawed culture with repeated personnel issues, unbridled retaliatory actions, and fundamental failures in the chain of command.
Richter resigned in June, effective Aug. 31. Embittered, he sold his San Clemente home, moved away, and reportedly rejected a Chief’s badge as a memento given departing leaders.
Another legacy from Richter's tenure is that the Fire Authority lost control to the county Health Care Agency the process for selecting ambulances to support its paramedics responding to 911 calls.
And the county's recent botching of its attempt at selecting ambulances adds to Bowman's challenges.
The county is soon again starting the ambulance selection process for 17 of its cities, but Health Care Agency officials this week told city managers from the Fire Authority’s cities that the new process will need another extension from the state.
As the Fire Authority is closed on Fridays, no one from the agency was available for comment on Bowman’s contract.
Bowman has two associate degrees in paramedic science and fire technology from Santa Ana College, and a bachelor’s degree in organizational behavior from the University of San Francisco.
He also has extensive experience in health care as a trustee and former chairman of the board of Scripps Health, a San Diego non-profit organization with five general hospitals and a $2.3 billion annual budget.
Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.