Connell hires first paid fire chief

CONNELL -- To keep up with growth and accommodate the needs of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, the city of Connell has hired its first paid fire chief.

Chris Schulte, a fire management officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been tapped to lead the 18-member volunteer fire department starting Feb. 1.

Schulte, 55, recently retired from working in the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes seven refuges and one monument near the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon.

City Administrator Steve Taylor said Schulte was chosen for the $58,500-a-year job from more than 30 applicants.

The city thought his background with fire officials in Benton and Franklin counties and experience working with volunteer fire departments would be beneficial, and that he would be able to handle the city's growth as well as the prison's, Taylor said.

"He's just really the best fit for the city," he said.

Connell provides the prison with fire protection under an $80,000 contract with the state Department of Corrections.

Connell recently remodeled its fire hall and purchased a new fire engine using $1.1 million in DOC impact fees because of the recently completed prison expansion, which added a 2,048-bed medium security section to an existing 600 minimum security beds. The impact fees also paid for a new ambulance.

Schulte has 35 years of fire management experience, including about 30 years in the U.S. Forest Service in the Mount Hood, Willamette and Umatilla national forests. He also is an incident commander, level 1, the highest tier in a national rating system for handling emergencies such as fires.

He said leading Connell's fire department would be an interesting challenge.

Schulte said he hopes to help the city reduce its fire liability. He plans to develop and implement a fire code compliance program and build administrative and document accountability for the volunteer firefighters and the city.

"I hope to add to the success that they've had all these years," he said.

He and his wife, Karyn, will be looking for a home in Connell as his new city contract requires him to live in the area within his first 90 days of employment. The Schultes currently live in West Richland. They have four adult children and a grandson.

Schulte said he hopes to continue to work cooperatively with the Tri-City fire departments, area fire districts and state and federal agencies. He said he has built relationships with the various departments and districts as part of his job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It is going to be a very exciting adventure," he said.

* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com