HELENA — For most of this year, the Helena Police Department and Helena Fire Departments have been directed by interim chiefs. As of last week, though, those men are now the departments’ permanent leaders.
Steve Hagen has been hired as the permanent police chief, and Ken Wood was selected as the fire chief. Both had been leading their departments since March, when HPD Chief Troy McGee announced his retirement and HFD Chief Mark Emert resigned.
Hagen and Wood agreed to remain on as interim chiefs for up to a year, as part of wider city budget cuts. Both men said they believed the interim period had gone well.
“The last year’s been challenging, but very rewarding,” said Hagen. “It’s something I’ve never done before, and it’s a lot different than anything I’ve done.”
City public information officer Rebecca Connors said leaders opened an internal application process for both chief positions in late November, seeking candidates from within the departments. The process was opened for 10 days, then extended another 10 days.
Candidates went through interviews with the city’s human resources director and a panel of either local law enforcement officials or community members with experience in firefighting. Hagen and Wood did further interviews with the city manager. In the end, they received a vote of confidence.
“It means a lot to me,” said Wood. “It’s an honor to be in a position where I can serve my hometown. It’s personal for me, and I think that makes a difference.”
Hagen has been with the Helena Police Department for 28 years, including six years as assistant chief. He said, as chief, he wants to look at several issues – including determining whether officers can be deployed more efficiently, updating aging computer systems for dispatch and records management, and looking for ways to bring in more dispatchers. He said he wants to build on what HPD is already doing.
“I think over the last many years, we’ve provided an excellent service to the citizens of Helena,” said Hagen. “We do our best to take the needs of the community and needs of the city into consideration, and I don’t think you’ll see a real significant change.”
Wood has spent almost 20 years with the Helena Fire Department and has also been an assistant chief for six years. He previously served as a volunteer with West Valley Volunteer Fire Department. He said one of his top priorities will be preparing and educating the community about wildfire risk – especially in the “wildland-urban interface,” where the city meets areas more prone to fires.
“The best way to deal with a wildland fire is to prevent it, so I think I would like to spend a good deal of time just doing as much as we can to keep the community safe and educate them on what the risk really is,” Wood said.
Connors said neither Hagen nor Wood will have a contract as chief, and that their employment will be handled like other city staff.