Following Thompson's Termination, Unalaska Searches For New Fire Chief

Dec 5, 2019

Ramona Thompson started as Unalaska's fire chief in March of 2018. She was fired in October.
Credit Zoe Sobel/KUCB

For the fifth time in five years, Unalaska is looking to hire a new fire chief.

Ramona Thompson was fired in early October after about a year and a half leading the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Due to the fatal plane crash that month and Thompson's travel schedule, KUCB couldn't reach her for an interview until this week.

"Our current city manager pretty much said that she had determined that it was in the best interest of the community and the organization to terminate me without cause, and that's why I'm not working there anymore," she said.

Thompson has more than 35 years of fire and EMS experience. She previously worked as EMS coordinator for the Department of Public Safety, as well as director of clinical services for Iliuliuk Family and Health Services.

Asked why she thought she was let go by City Manager Erin Reinders, Thompson declined to comment.

"You could maybe ask her and see what she says," said Thompson. "I doubt that she gives you any more information than that. But at this particular moment, I'm going to leave it at that."

Reinders also declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of staffing decisions.

"That's a personnel issue and decision that I'm not going to comment on any further," said Reinders. "I will say that we are looking for a new fire chief. Actually, we've got a bunch of really good applicants, so we're hoping to do interviews here in the next couple weeks."

This is the city's first recruiting effort since fire chief was reclassified as an executive-level position.

Last December, after years of debate, the City Council voted to restructure Public Safety and turn Fire into its own standalone department.

Reinders said the change seems to have helped in attracting promising applicants.

"I think it's twofold," she said. "One, it's that ownership that you have over the whole department — the budget and operations. I think that's attractive."

"The other thing: More recently, council approved some changes to Title 3 [of the Unalaska City Code] that bumped up the base pay range to adjust for cost of living," she continued. "That hadn't been done for quite some time."

Based on their qualifications, the next fire chief's salary will range from about $93,000 to 149,000, which marks a roughly 20 percent increase.

Thompson said she hopes the city picks an applicant with a strong vision and a willingness to learn from the department's current staffers — both paid and volunteer.

And though she's retiring a few years sooner than expected, Thompson said she's looking forward to her next chapter in Unalaska.

"I still want to give back to the community," she said. "I'm out for medical reasons right now. When I come back, I hope I'm healthy enough to volunteer again in some capacity."

Meanwhile, Fire Captain Mike Hanson is serving as acting director of the department, which hasn't had a long-term leader since the early 2000s.

The city is also working to fill vacancies for police chief and finance director.