By JULIE JOHNSON and RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new chief will begin leading the Forestville and Russian River fire protection districts this week as part of an agreement to share a leader.
Forestville Fire Capt. Max Ming, an El Molino High graduate with deep roots in Sonoma County, will start running both departments Thursday.
Ming steps into the role with 27 years as a Forestville firefighter.
“He’s someone we all know and respect,” said Monte Rio and Jenner Fire Chief Steve Baxman, who served as Russian River’s interim chief since spring.
Outgoing Forestville Fire Chief Dan Northern said the agreement ensures both districts will have a chief.
“This allows both agencies to have that at half the cost, that’s the benefit,” said Northern, who’s been chief since 2008.
The river district entered into a seven-year contract with the Forestville district to share a chief, starting with Ming.
Ming begins a one-year contract after which he and the districts will decide whether he’ll continue as chief or return to being a captain. The districts will split Ming’s $105,000 base pay. Ming technically will remain a Forestville employee.
“I can’t wait to start,” Ming said. “The challenge will be balancing my time between them and not knowing what’s expected from both yet.”
Russian River Fire District has had a revolving door of fire chiefs, with as many as a dozen chiefs over the past 25 years.
The instability has caused the department to struggle, said Frank Lambert, president of the district’s board of directors.
Lambert praised the hiring of Ming, saying he hoped it would bring stability and leadership.
“Our staff needs that,” he said.
Ming born in Forestville and graduated from El Molino High School in 1987. He joined the fire house at age 15 as a volunteer. He continued volunteering and spent summers working for Cal Fire before he was hired in 1994 in Forestville as a full-time fire engineer.
He went through the Santa Rosa Junior College fire science and training program.
“I’m an old face, there’s a comfort in that,” Ming said.
He still lives in Forestville and has a daughter and son at El Molino High.
Ming said only one employee among the two departments has worked longer than him in the area.
“The challenge will be balancing my time between them and not knowing what’s expected from both yet,” Ming said.
Northern said he expected Ming would work well in supervising the staff.
“Max has always been involved in sports, and I find his leadership to be like a coach,” Northern said. “He’s very supportive and gives positive encouragement.”
Forestville has seven full-time employees and averages 20 to 30 volunteers at its Mirabel Road fire house.
The Russian River district has nine paid firefighters and a handful of volunteers who work out of the department’s one station on Armstrong Woods Road.
The district was in dire financial straits until voters passed a tax measure in June 2010. But even so, Lambert said, the district can’t afford a full-time chief.
He said Ming still has years ahead in his career and there is potential for the district to finally have a chief that stays and guides the department for many years.