After taking a few weeks to reconsider accepting a job with the Manassas Fire and Rescue Department, Brett Bowman said Wednesday that he will take the position and lead a department that lost its last chief and its interim chief amid turmoil in the agency.
Bowman, the assistant fire chief in Prince William County, accepted the job last month and was scheduled to begin May 2, city officials said. But Bowman then asked for a 30-day extension to reconsider after he noticed issues relating to the conduct of certain individuals. He will begin June 6.
“The issues have not been resolved, but have been brought to the forefront, and the [Manassas] city manager is fully supportive of me,” Bowman said, declining to comment further on the problems he noticed. “I’ve always believed this is the right position for me.”
Manassas officials began a search last winter to replace Fire Chief Michael L. Wood, who resigned in December. Wood left the agency while volunteer and career members clashed over the organization of the fire and rescue system and over who should be in charge.
Wood had said that the structure of the fire and rescue system — which includes a paid staff, the Manassas Volunteer Fire Company and the Greater Manassas Volunteer Rescue squad — gave him responsibility and liability but no mechanism to influence or manage change. He noted that he had a good relationship with the volunteer rescue squad.
Facing similar concerns, interim Fire and Rescue Chief Dale McCleese resigned April 27, days before his position was set to expire. Wade House has stepped into the role of acting chief.
McCleese decided to leave after the City Council didn’t act when Volunteer Fire Department Chief Matt Lausch provided what McCleese believed to be false information to the council on training qualifications of his crew during an April 27 meeting. Sources said the issue is that there is not enough detailed information about the volunteers’ training to determine their qualifications.
“I’m very concerned about being able to fill and maintain that [chief] position,” Manassas council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said after Bowman asked for the extension. “There are organizational issues and personality issues that need to be fixed. We don’t want to drive volunteers away in all this, but the management of the volunteers needs to do some serious soul-searching in how they can best serve the city.”
Since then, Lausch said he has provided training records for his “line officers,” which include the chief and assistant chief, but not the records for the other nearly 80 members. He said that whether he releases those records depends on the policies and procedures of a proposed new uniformed ranking system — something used in Prince William to more closely align the training standards of career and volunteer members.
Lausch said that he had tried to contact Bowman to work out any issues but that Bowman didn’t respond. Bowman said the volunteer chief never reached out to him.
“It’s important for [the position of chief] to be filled,” Lausch said. “We believe the system created is the right one to move forward with . . . and I just want to do what’s right and makes sense so we can provide the best service we can.”
Bowman, 53, began his fire and rescue career as a volunteer in Manassas in 1974. He later took a career position in the county, did a brief stint back in the city and then returned to the county in 1990.
“This is kind of a fairy tale come true,” he said. “Since I started in Manassas this is basically coming home for me.”
Bowman said his experience working in both localities and as a career and volunteer employee will help as he tries to bring together a fire and rescue system that has been somewhat divided for the past few years. He said his goal will be to assure that citizens get the best service. Although although he still has some of the same concerns that Wood and McCleese had, Bowman said, he believes they can be resolved.
“If we can create an open and honest culture, we can work through this,” he said.