The City of Nelson is filling a couple of key positions in a two-for-one-deal.
Husband-and-wife Len MacCharles and Pam Mierau were announced last week as the new fire chief and manager of development services, respectively. Both begin their new positions November 17.
While they presently live in Calgary, neither are strangers to Nelson: Mierau is originally from here and her parents and siblings still live in town. They have visited two or three times per year, MacCharles said in an interview Monday, and were here recently finding a place to live.
“I’ve actually been interested in the potential to be the Nelson fire chief for quite a few years,” he said. “I’ve become very fond of the place.”
Although they married in Nelson 24 years ago, the couple met in Calgary, where MacCharles has spent his entire firefighting career.
For the past five years, Mierau has been the City of Calgary’s coordinator for centre city planning, managing a staff of 15. Before that she was a planner with the city and an architecture firm.
‘WON THE LOTTERY’
MacCharles said he has been “extremely fortunate” in his career, which began in 1981. He was named a deputy chief in 2004 and has held responsibility for emergency management. Currently he’s in charge of operations, overseeing 1,300 firefighters out of 39 stations.
But having toured the Nelson fire hall and met its firefighters, he’s not reluctant to assume the helm of a much smaller department.
“I’ve been impressed with the level of professionalism and pride the Nelson firefighters have,” he said. “Their training would match departments across Canada. They also have the auxiliary side that is the envy of a lot of communities.
“I look forward to getting a little more hands on on some fronts and actually knowing the names of all the staff. At 1,300 you can’t connect with them all.”
MacCharles, one of the few Canadians to hold the designation of executive fire officer from the National Fire Academy in the US, said a career highlight was being seconded in 2011 to help battle the wildfire at Slave Lake, Alta. that forced the town’s evacuation.
After the local fire department worked 24 hours straight, MacCharles was asked to take command and spent the next ten days both fighting the fire and managing evacuations, re-entries, and emergency services.
“I got to see firsthand what can happen through an urban interface fire,” he said. “I will be promoting a firesmart approach in Nelson, which is what [outgoing chief] Simon [Grypma] and the team have been doing for some time.”
MacCharles, 54 — not 57 as indicated in a city news release last week — stressed he has “no intentions of retiring anytime soon.”
“I like to think I have a lot left to offer,” he said.
He expects a transition period of a couple of weeks with Grypma, who is retiring after a little under seven years as chief and 38 years as a Nelson firefighter.
“I won the lottery when I became a firefighter,” MacCharles said. “I won the lottery again when I became a deputy chief. And I’ve won the lottery yet again to become chief of Nelson. I feel blessed.”
Mierau holds a masters of environmental design, an urban design certificate, and a bachelor’s degree in communication.
City manager Kevin Cormack said her experience is valuable and timely in dealing with development projects in Nelson.
“We believe Pam has a very unique set of skills,” he said in a news release, “one that will allow the city to start building buy-in from residents, business and property owners in general and the development community.”
Cormack said Mierau arrives amidst an “unprecedented” level of development interest in Nelson and a “challenging” time for the department, with many personnel changes.
Over the last few months, planner Daphne Powell resigned, senior planner Dave Wahn retired, his replacement Allen Fillion took a job in West Kelowna, and former Rossland planner Mike Maturo, who was hired on a short-term contract, quit early.
In an email to the Star, Cormack called the chances of finding a couple who could fit the two critical vacancies “one of those one-in-a-million situations.”
He noted that in small communities, the ability to find employment for a spouse is often a key consideration before someone agrees to take a job.
“We have lost potential employees throughout the organization because the other spouse was not confident they could find employment here,” Cormack said.
However, he added in this case, MacCharles and Mierau were considered independently for their positions.
“As with any two working people if one had been able to secure employment in Nelson and the other wasn’t able to, they would have had to decide whether they would accept that position. Fortunately for the City of Nelson we were able to offer both of them employment.”
Cormack said the city wouldn’t have hired the couple unless they were the best candidates for their respective positions.