Ashland's mayor welcomed four fire officials on Monday — two from California and two from Iowa — who are vying to become the city's next fire chief.

Ashland's mayor welcomed four fire officials — two from California and two from Iowa — who are vying to become the city's next fire chief, on Monday.

"It looks like we've got four very qualified candidates and that have been carefully vetted," Mayor John Stromberg said Monday afternoon after the four men had given brief speeches on their qualifications and on why they wanted the job.

The candidates will be interviewed by two panels of city councilors and community members today.

"I see this as a chance for them to present to us as people, but also for us to present what Ashland is like," Stromberg said.

The city hired a private recruiter to help find its next top fire official when Keith Woodley retired from the position in December, after 17 years with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

There were no internal applicants for the job, likely because Ashland's department is small, said the recruiter, Jerrold Oldani, senior vice president of Waters-Oldani Executive Recruitment Division.

The salary for the position starts in the low $100,000 range and includes a retirement plan, health benefits and use of a vehicle for city business, according to the city brochure on the position.

City officials are trying to decide between: David Burns, an employee of the Iowa State Department of Homeland Security and Disaster Relief and a former fire chief in Ankeny, Iowa; John Karns, deputy fire chief in Beverly Hills, Calif.; Larry Squiers, fire chief in Marshalltown, Iowa; and Scott Ventura, division fire chief and fire marshal in Palm Springs, Calif.

Karns, Squiers and Ventura have each worked in fire departments for close to three decades and Burns has worked in the industry for almost two decades, according to the candidates' resumés.

"There is no doubt in my mind or, I believe, in the city administrator's mind, that they could all do the job," Oldani said. "What it comes down to now is a matter of chemistry and leadership style."

Oldani whittled down the original pool of 68 applicants to 18, and then a city selection committee narrowed the number to 10. The four best qualified applicants were invited to come to the city for two-days of interviews.

City Administrator Martha Bennett hopes to have the list of applicants narrowed to two by early next week, she said. The city will then perform more background checks and follow-up interviews before making a final decision.

Bennett will recommend a candidate to Stromberg, but the mayor has the final say on the matter. His selection must then be approved by the City Council.

City officials hope to have a new fire chief in the city's firehouse by July 1, Bennett said.

Larry Langston, the city's interim fire chief, hopes his replacement comes by then, because he's ready to get on with his retirement, he said. Langston, who previously served as a fire chief in Bend and Anchorage, Alaska, came out of retirement to fill the temporary position.

"I'm looking forward to this being a successful process," he said of the search for a new fire chief. "It's been really good for me to see the quality of the candidates. The firefighters that work in the department are fantastic and I only want the best for them."

Ashlanders can send their comments about the candidates to the mayor until noon on Friday, by sending an e-mail to john@council.ashland.or.us or mailing a letter to City Hall, 20 E. Main St., Ashland, OR, 97520.

The speeches the applicants made Monday afternoon were recorded and will be broadcast on RVTV's channel 14 at 4 p.m. today, and on the station's channel 9 at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.