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Dan Saltzman

Commissioner, City of Portland

Phone: 503-823-4151

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Retired Las Vegas fire chief selected to be Portland's next fire chief

By Maxine Bernstein | The Oregonian/OregonLive The Oregonian Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 16, 2016 at 10:05 AM, updated May 16, 2016 at  5:37 PM                                   

Mike Myers, 49, who retired as Las Vegas fire chief in 2013 after a 26-year career with the department and went on to work as chief of a fire department in St. Charles, Missouri, has been selected to be Portland's next fire chief.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said Monday that Myers was selected from 31 applicants in a national search. The Bureau of Human Resources narrowed the field to 10. A panel, which included the fire union president, human resource representatives and a citizen on the fire budget advisory committee, whittled the pool to five, and Saltzman selected Myers.

mikemyers.jpgMike Myers, Portland's new fire chief 

Myers was a "leader in the emergency medical side'' of the Las Vegas fire service -- important considering that 70 to 80 percent of the Portland fire department's calls are medical, Saltzman said.

"Chief Myers has the right skill set to approach the complex challenges our Fire & Rescue Bureau is facing with rapid growth and changing demands and, specifically would be able to bring a cutting-edge approach to the Emergency Medical Services side of the bureau,'' the commissioner said.

Myers began in Las Vegas as a firefighter in 1986 and later was a paramedic, fire training officer, assistant chief and deputy chief before becoming chief in 2011. He has a bachelor's degree in health care administration and was a volunteer for years with the Las Vegas police department's search and rescue team.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, while Myers was chief, the fire department opened two new fire stations, carried out a program to increase the survival rate of heart attack patients and updated sick leave and overtime policies.

Myers replaces Erin Janssens, the bureau's first woman chief who announced her retirement earlier this year and left last month. Ken Burns, deputy chief of Emergency Medical Services, has been serving as interim chief.

Myers isn't the first outsider to lead the Portland Fire Bureau. In the early 1990s, then-City Commissioner Charlie Hales appointed Robert Wall, who came to Portland from Palo Alto, Calif. 

Portland Fire Marshal Nate Takara and former Portland fire division chief Greg Keller who went on to serve as Salem's fire chief were among the five finalists for the job.

Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Fire Fighters Association, said he's disappointed that the next chief isn't someone who rose within the ranks of the Portland fire agency, but he recognizes Myers' qualifications.

"I wish we could hire an inside candidate,'' Ferschweiler said. "But the outside candidates are well-educated, smart and very, very qualified for the job.''

He said he believes Myers was selected because he appears to reflect the ideals of the city of Portland, noting that he doesn't own a car and wants to live in the city.

He's also a bit quirky. Myers and his wife have kept a public journal called the KissingTour, tracking their lives one kiss at a time as they traveled and writing about it to "change the way the world sees love,'' according to their blog. They've repeated the mantra, "Live Big, Kiss Often.''

"We're a little bit different than your normal fire chief and fire couple,'' Myers conceded in a phone interview.

The union president also pointed out that Myers was the subject of a no-confidence vote by the Las Vegas firefighters' union in 2012. The members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 reported a 274-to-137 vote against Myers because he wasn't opposed to outside consultants' evaluating the fire department. The union accused the chief of using the study as political cover to justify cuts.

"We're cautiously optimistic,'' Ferschweiler said. "What I liked about him is he envisions a fire chief being more of a community leader. It was clear the commissioner wanted someone who was trustworthy and could work well both with City Hall and with labor.''

Myers said he and his wife are eager to live in Portland. He described himself as "minimalist'' and hopes to find a studio apartment in downtown Portland so he can walk to work.

"He's passionate about Portland,'' Saltzman said. "He and his wife are very outdoor-oriented.''

Myers, born in Rockford, Illinois, said he joined the Las Vegas department shortly after he graduated from high school. He decided to leave Las Vegas in 2013 when his wife found a job in Chicago. When she retired, they took a three-month trip to Europe, traveling to Ireland, London, Italy and Sweden.

When they returned to the United States, they bought a condo in Florida, but Myers quickly discovered he had more to do and wanted to return to the fire service. He sought the fire chief's job in St. Charles, Missouri, which has a small department of 70 firefighters and is where his wife's parents live. He's served as the St. Charles fire chief for the last 15 months, he said.

When the Portland job came open, Myers saw it as an opportunity to return to a major metropolitan department. Portland's contingent of approximately 700 firefighters is slightly larger than Las Vegas' firefighting force of over 600, he said.

He said he's passionate about the fire service, and wants the Fire Bureau to be successful. He said he'll be candid and transparent with the men and women in the bureau, and described his leadership style as relying on the good ideas of the rank-and-file firefighters.

"My goal is to build an environment where people can be successful,'' Myer said. "It's a bottom-up way to manage.''

He said he also will run the administrative portion of the bureau "as a business,'' staying true to any strategic plan that's created. He'll also keep track of the bureau's performance, whether it's response times to fires, job injury rates or number of cardiac arrest patients who are treated and survive.

In a prepared statement, Myers said he considers Portland's fire service among the most respected in the country.

"It is an absolute honor to have the opportunity to lead the fine men and women of this organization,'' he said. "My wife Tara and I find Portland to be completely aligned with our lifestyle. We look forward to interacting with and serving our new community.''

Myers is scheduled to start June 30, with an annual salary of $180,000, according to Saltzman.

In an interesting side note, Myers' daughter Megan Myers is a leading scorer on the Canadian Professional Women's hockey team the Boston Blades.

-- Maxine Bernstein

mbernstein@oregonian.com 503-221-8212 @maxoregonian