California Fire Chief Retires, Restoring Department Budget

Stanislaus FPD chief retires after restoring budget and erasing deficit.
(Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District)

Stanislaus $1.2M deficit erased, station reopened

Ken Carlson, The Modesto Bee


Apr. 9–Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District has appointed an interim chief while board members work on filling the permanent position.

Chief Michael Whorton retired effective Wednesday after 31 years in the fire service, district officials said. Whorton was the chief for Stanislaus Consolidated for more than two years.

At a regular meeting Thursday, the district board appointed Eric Holly to serve as interim fire chief.

Holly has been deputy fire warden for Stanislaus County. According to salary records at Transparent California, Holly was previously a captain for Ceres Fire Department.

Whorton, who was promoted in-house in January 2019, was credited with restoring the district’s budget and erasing a $1.2 million deficit.

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District staff reported Thursday that Station 23 will reopen Monday now that new firefighters have completed academy training and the budget shortfall is resolved. The station on Highway 132 east of Modesto, near Geer Road, was closed in fall 2019 when the fire district was in the red.

Eric DeHart, public information officer, said prior to Thursday’s meeting that district officials are still discussing the process for finding the next permanent fire chief. “They are looking at the options as far as potential recruitment,” DeHart said.

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The leadership transition is going smoother than a previous change in management at Stanislaus Consolidated.

In October 2017, the district board voted to fire former Chief Rick Weigele after just five months on the job. Dozens of people supporting Weigele attended a meeting that month urging the board to keep the chief. The reason for terminating Weigele was not disclosed.

Weigele was the third chief to leave the fire district in a two-year period. By contrast, Whorton added some stability to the executive position with a stint of two-plus years.

Weigele, who was later hired by Salida Fire District, recently filed a whistleblower complaint against Salida.

The appointed five-member board for Stanislaus Consolidated has completely turned over since the shakeup more than three years ago. The fire district employs 48 firefighters today.

Board Member Charles Neal of Riverbank said the district is now in solid financial shape. But that could always change if the board does not keep a close watch on spending, he said.

“If things go wrong we will need help from the public to keep in the black and not drift back in the red again,” Neal said.

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