The City of Somerset officially has a new fire chief.
In a surprising move Monday evening, Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler asked that councilors hire Stephen Tyler Jasper, currently working with Somerset-Pulaski County EMS, as the city’s fire chief.
Girdler stated that the move came as part of some changes taking place within several city departments, especially those “in public protection and safety.”
Somerset City Council voted 9-1 to approve the hiring, with Councilor John Ricky Minton voting against Girdler’s recommendation.
“I think he (Jasper) will be fine, but I would’ve just liked to maybe found someone who was on the fire department who was qualified,” Minton said on Monday. “ ... I know that’s a big job. I wish him the best, I’ll work with him ... I still think we needed a firefighter. Surely we could’ve found one, but this is fine.”
Councilor Jimmy Eastham voted in favor of Jasper’s hiring, but he made a statement similar to Minton’s.
“I really believe in hiring someone within the ranks,” said Eastham. “That didn’t seem to be possible this time. I guess no one stepped forward.”
Councilors Jim Rutherford and Jerry Burnett were not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
Jasper became a possible candidate around two months ago, according to Girdler, who noted the city had been looking for several months for a permanent fire chief.
Junior Fortenberry, a longtime firefighter with the city, had been filling in as acting chief in the meantime.
When asked whether he felt to hire someone from outside the fire department was a solid move, Girdler stated that “it had to be done.”
Girdler pointed to Jasper’s qualifications in management and his years in the U.S. Army — including being a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. — in explaining the city’s decision.
“He (Jasper) is extremely qualified,” said Girdler. “More qualified than the other applicants we had.
“We were all satisfied with his abilities and willingness to serve,” Girdler added. “You have to have managers to head departments.”
Jasper is an extended relative of the mayor. Girdler on Tuesday disclosed that Jasper is married to his second cousin.
“That’s the extent of that,” said Girdler, when asked about any possible relation between the two.
The Commonwealth Journal was contacted by several people who had concerns that the city had not advertised and posted the job before Jasper’s hiring. Girdler and Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese both said the city is not required to do so.
“We’re not required by law to advertise a post,” said Wiese on Tuesday.
Wiese said the city’s employee handbook states that the city will make every attempt to hire from within the municipality before seeking applicants not already employed by the city.
“We always try to hire within the city,” said Wiese.
Wiese and Girdler both said the city sought applicants from within the fire department before turning to applicants from elsewhere within the city.
“We run a whole city,” said Girdler. “Every department is a part of the city.
“ ... We think this is the best for our city.”
Girdler also noted that, as mayor, he “by law,” has “a right to appoint anybody.”
Jasper is a Somerset native. He graduated from Somerset High School in 1987, and from there he received a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the West Point Academy. Jasper has worked for the local EMS service since 2010, and has worked with McCreary County EMS since 2012.
Jasper also worked with the Whitley County EMS service from 2011 to 2013. He is currently the co-owner of the Woodhouse Day Spa, located in downtown Somerset, and he’s the vice president and general manager of Jasper Entertainment Corp., which operates Blockbuster Video in Somerset.
Jasper has a storied history in the U.S. Army as well. He taught as an assistant professor of military science at Indiana University from 1995 to 1997. Before that, he served as a battalion logistics officer from 1994 to 1995, as a company executive officer from 1992 to 1994, and as an M1A1 tank platoon leader from 1991 to 1992, all while being stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.