For incoming Scottsdale Fire Chief William "Willie" McDonald’s son, making the move from their San Francisco Bay Area home came down to an urgent phone call and a choice between three things.
A boxer, a bull terrier or a bulldog.
"This is the emergency?" McDonald asked his 13-yearold son, his oldest of two sons. "He said, ‘Yeah. I’m willing to move, but you have to buy me a new dog.’ "
For McDonald, the decision to accept the job of fire chief this week was a little more involved. The 46-yearold native Californian said he wasn’t looking for a job, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build a fire department from scratch.
"You never get to help start a fire department," he said Friday in his public introduction at City Hall. "And you’d probably never get to do it in a city of this size if you did."
McDonald will lead a team that will be responsible for the changeover from private fire provider Rural/Metro Corp. to a city-run department by July 1, 2005.
"There is a lot to do and not a whole lot of time to do it in," he said.
McDonald said he believes his biggest challenge will be to improve relations among the city, the community and Rural/Metro. Last year, a group of residents and firefighter unions led an initiative to replace the company with a Scottsdale-run fire department.
Rural/Metro won the hardfought election, but six months later announced it would leave the city.
"I just want people to feel good about what it is we are trying to do. Our interest is to provide top-quality service," he said. "I just don’t know that you can be a topperforming organization if there is a conflict that is in the focus."
One of the chief criticisms levied by Rural/Metro foes was that the company uses three firefighters on a truck, rather than a four-person crew.
McDonald most recently came from the Fremont Fire Department in California, which also used three-person staffs on trucks.
"As fire professionals, we provide them with tools and the resources, and tell them how we can best go about providing the services," he said. "I think it’s a local community decision as to what level of service you provide, and that’s really where it starts for me."