CODE RED: Aurora officials on the lookout for new fire chief

The new chief will take over a department that is set to grow, too, as the department builds three new homes in the coming years

AURORA | City officials are reviewing applications for a new Aurora fire chief and could start interviews in the coming weeks.

The city hired a firm called CPS-HR to conduct a national search for retired Chief Mike Garcia’s replacement. The company opened the application process late last year.

The application period ended Jan. 9 and Noël Mink, manager of human resources operations for the city, said in an email the company will now start screening the applicants.

After that, finalists will be interviewed both over the phone and by a panel of city officials, she said. The city paid CPS-HR about $24,000 to conduct the search, she added.

Recent similar searches have lasted close to a year.

When former police Chief Dan Oates announced in April 2014 that he was leaving to take over as chief in Miami Beach, Florida, the city launched a nationwide search for his replacement. They hired Bob Murray and Associates to conduct the search in May 2014.

In December 2014, city management narrowed the search to four finalists, and in January 2015 City Manager Skip Noe announced he had chosen Nick Metz as the city’s new chief.

Metz, who came to Aurora from Seattle police, took the helm in March 2015.

Garcia retired in October after almost a decade at the helm of the fire department. Caine Hills is currently serving as interim chief.

Garcia started with Aurora Fire in 1978 as an apprentice firefighter and worked his way up the ladder, holding the ranks of lieutenant and captain before becoming battalion chief in 2000.

In 2004, he took a job as training chief before going back to battalion chief, a position he held until he was named chief in 2007.

Garcia was the department’s first Latino fire chief, and in his tenure the department focused on making the department more diverse.

When Garcia came to Aurora fire in the 1970s, he was one of three Hispanic firefighters on a department that had just one black firefighter and zero women.

Today, 12 of the department’s 334 firefighters are black, 29 are Hispanic and 24 are women.

While Aurora fire is 73 percent white males, Garcia said that just in his nine years as chief the department has steadily become more diverse. When he took over, the department was 80 percent white males and included just 16 Hispanic firefighters.

To continue the often-challenging work of recruiting future firefighters, Garcia said he hopes the department focuses on younger candidates.

The new chief will take over a department that is set to grow, too, as the department builds three new homes in the coming years.

With the population growth on the city’s eastern and northern edges, the city is planning to start construction on three new firehouses by 2018.

One firehouse will be a brand new Station No. 16 and will be built near the under-construction Gaylord Rockies Hotel in northeast Aurora, near Denver International Airport.

The other two will replace current stations. One will replace Station No. 5, which is on Buckley Road just south of East Colfax Avenue.

The other will replace Station No. 15, which is located in a residential house in the Murphy Creek subdivision.

To staff the new stations, the department added five new firefighters last year and plans to add five more in 2017 and 2018. Those 15 will make up the 15 new firefighters the new station needs when it comes online.