Mills Fire Department's new head said not having worked as a firefighter in the past doesn't disqualify him from leading the agency.

Mills Town Council members appointed Dave North to the position on Monday.

North said he has an extensive background in safety and compliance. He also said he has a background in confined space training, has chemical and hazardous material qualifications and has helped carry out controlled burns.

"It's not the first time I've been around this kind of stuff," North told K2 Radio News following a Mills Council meeting Wednesday. "The stuff that we're dealing with, I've been dealing with for a long time.

"Because of the background that I've got — that's the reason why I fit into emergency services and homeland security."

Mills resident Leah Juarez told council members Wednesday night that she is just as qualified as North to lead the department, citing prior hazardous material training.

"I own a day spa," Juarez said. "I own a consulting business that deals with asbestos abatement and inspection. I have done fire inspection myself.

"It's all about how you paint the picture."

Mills council members, Juarez added, should be ashamed of themselves for the vote.

Ten people applied for the position, which was posted in September. North was the only person the council interviewed.

And the position is more of an administrative role than hands-on one council member said.

"Do you know what a fire chief does?" Councilwoman Darla Ives asked a citizen addressing the council. "They don't fight fires.

"I don't have to answer to you to say what I have to say: I voted for the best person."

In April, the Mills Council voted to lay off its paid fire department effective July 1 but reached an agreement with the union representing firefighters last month.

Shortly after the layoffs, the firefighters' union said the layoffs were in retaliation following broken down contract negotiations.

Several residents have expressed concern that North was brought on to dismantle the fire department.

However, North said he is looking forward to overseeing a strong fire department. While the agency faces budget constraints, the future for the department looks bright, he said.

North said in the future, the department might bring on volunteer firefighters to supplement the paid staff.

"I believe every one of those guys is an asset, but you have to protect your assets because if you don't, you'll lose them," North said. "These guys are great.

"I'm not doing any changes immediately — and I've told them that. We're going to sit back and I'm going to watch and see what they're doing. Their discussion and their suggestions are going to be a part of the changes. It's not going to come from the top, it's going to come from across the board."

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