By Christian Hill
Posted Mar 6, 2016 at 12:01 AM
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Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves, who led the department through its merger and three major fires during the past couple of summers, is retiring after a 37-year career.
City Manager Jon Ruiz announced Groves’ retirement in an email to the City Council, calling him an “exemplary leader that will be missed.” Groves’ last day is April 29.
Ruiz, with the fire chief’s endorsement, has appointed Joe Zaludek, the department’s deputy chief of special operations, to serve as acting chief during the search for Groves’ successor. As deputy chief, Zaludek oversees the department’s emergency medical response, its training and its special teams, including hazardous materials and water rescue.
Groves, 56, said he’s looking to spend more time with family. The fire chief said he has been eligible to retire under the state’s pension plan for public employees since 2009.
“I’ve enjoyed the work,” he said. “The opportunity to bring two very fine service organizations together helped me want to stay here and put things together.”
Eugene and Springfield gradually have merged their fire departments in part to try to curb continually increasing costs, largely because of steadily rising per-employee compensation, including pay and retirement benefits.
Groves began his career has a volunteer firefighter in Corvallis in 1979 and came to Eugene the following year.
After being discussed on and off for years, the merger of the Eugene and Springfield fire departments took its first major step in 2010 when the agencies combined their key administrative personnel. Groves, hired as Eugene’s fire chief in 2006, became the leader of both departments with the retirement of former Springfield Fire Chief Dennis Murphy. Groves was paid $137,945 in base salary last year.
The merger took its final operational step in August 2014 when the departments integrated their crews, so Springfield firefighters can work in Eugene and vice versa.
In addition to trying to curb the pace of rising employee costs, the merger is aimed at improving service.
Groves said the unified department’s response to the three major fires -- the Swanson mill in 2014, and Civic Stadium and Southtowne Lanes last year -- proved its mettle.
All three buildings were destroyed, but the response spared damage to neighboring structures with no deaths or injuries.
Mike Caven, president of Lane Professional Fire Fighters, the labor union representing the department’s firefighters, characterized Groves as a “tremendous fire chief” and said the merger “went smoother than anyone could predict.”
Caven said Groves was able to help that process by knowing the “right time to make what moves so everyone could be as comfortable as they could be.”
Eugene Councilor Chris Pryor agreed, writing in an email, “Without his integrity and trustworthiness, I don’t think we could have achieved the level of cooperation with Springfield to make our department mergers possible.”
The department continues to maintain separate budgets and to answer to two city managers and city councils. Groves said he regrets being unable to move the department further in unifying its governance and finances.
Groves is retiring as the department continues to adjust its emergency medical response to try to keep pace with the increase in the number of calls for service.
Last year, the department responded to more than 36,500 calls for services and transported more than 20,000 patients, both new highs.
Much of the increase stems from non-emergency calls from residents who don’t have the money, insurance coverage or ability to visit a doctor.
“This is good time to turn the reins over to someone who could shepherd the process through to its conclusion,” he said.Follow Christian on Twitter @RGchill. Address emails to firstname.lastname@example.org .