Desmond Cowan Named Arcata Fire Chief

Monday, July 8, 2013
Newly named Arcata Fire Chief Desmond Cowan. KLH | Eye

Newly named Arcata Fire Chief Desmond Cowan.
KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – After announcing a shared services plan with Humboldt Bay Fire, then canceling it, the Arcata Fire Protection District Board (AFPD) has appointed Assistant Chief Desmond Cowan as Fire Chief.

Cowan is a 21-year Arcata firefighter who has worked at all ranks in the organization. He is the first local graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.

According to Cowan, “I’m honored and excited to have been asked to lead this outstanding team. We will be focused on streamlining our administration and we’ll be working hard to strengthen our volunteer and career ranks.”

“Assistant Chief Cowan has budget management expertise, incident command experience, and strong leadership skills; additionally, he has been involved with the strategic planning process from the beginning. Assistant Chief Cowan will lead our organization effective July 1, 2013,” said John Davis, AFPD chair.

The Fire District has been led by Interim Fire Chief Justin McDonald since late December, following the retirement of Chief John McFarland. “The work done by Chief McDonald to keep our organization on track has been exemplary,” said Cowan. “He has done a remarkable job and has the support and gratitude of all of our personnel.”

Arrangements for a formal swearing in and badge pinning are pending.

Cowan also serves on the City of Arcata’s Transportation Safety Committee, where he is cordial, wry and assertive in representing Arcata Fire’s interests. These generally have to do with raising awareness of the public safety impacts of transportation initiatives and maximizing the department’s emergency access to service areas.

Cowan will lead development of Arcata Fire’s new Strategic Plan, its first. “It’s never been done and it’s a huge accomplishment for us,” Cowan said. The document will provide the department’s direction for the next three to five years, and will be formed by Arcata Fire volunteers, career staff and the community. The public will be able to contribute during meetings of the Fire District board.

The plan’s emphasis is on supporting frontline firefighters. “We’ll prioritize keeping our resources and energy on them,” Cowan said. “They are our most important asset and resource.”

The Strategic Plan will be submitted to the AFPD board for adoption by August, Cowan said. A possible administrative reorganization may also be in the works.

Cowan doesn’t regret the circuitous process by which he became chief. The department had been searching for a new chief since the departure of McFarland late last year, but concluded that process unsuccessfully in March, citing difficulties in securing interviews with out-of-the-area finalists. Cowan was the sole finalist to be currently serving on staff at Arcata Fire.

In May, the AFPD board announced a shared services agreement with Humboldt Bay Fire under which Chief Ken Woods would simultaneously serve that department as well as Arcata Fire. Efficiency and cost savings were cited as benefits of the arrangement.

But the next month, the AFPD board rescinded the arrangement, stating that “the costs outweighed the benefits.”

Finally, on Friday, June 28, Cowan’s appointment as chief was announced.