Fire truck

Nogales Fire Department Engine 1 stands at the ready at Station No. 1 in this photo from January 2018. The department will soon be led by a new chief.

Months after the fire department’s chief resigned in March under unexplained circumstances, the City of Nogales has chosen a successor.

Jeffery Sargent will lead the Nogales Fire Department beginning on Aug. 5, starting at a salary of $93,500, according to city Human Resources Director Carmen Fuentes.

He will replace former chief Mike McKearney and become the department’s third leader – all brought in from other districts – since longtime NFD firefighter Hector Robles stepped down from the department’s top job in 2015.

Sargent is currently the director of emergency medical services (EMS) in Skagit County, Wash., and also owns a print shop in Tucson, according to a resume submitted to the city.

He previously served as the Southwest region president of the private fire department Rural/Metro, and was the director of the Tucson-area Mountain View Fire District from 2012 until 2017, when the district was absorbed into the Golder Ranch Fire District.

Sargent started his career as an emergency medical technician for Rural/Metro, but did not list experience as a firefighter on his resume.

McKearney resigned from the position in March after just two years on the job. At the time, both McKearney and City Manager Frank Felix declined to give a reason for the departure.

In April, McKearney began working as a paramedic for the Sierra Vista Fire Department, according to that city’s human resources department.

NFD EMS Director Gerry Castro, a 26-year veteran of the department, was the only other finalist for the chief position, Fuentes said.

But the city was left with just one candidate when Castro withdrew his application for the job on June 24.

Castro told the NI that he chose to withdraw for personal reasons.

No degree needed

Before Castro backed out, the council had updated the job description in an apparent effort to make him an eligible candidate for fire chief.

The original description listed a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for the position.

Castro’s highest degree is an associate’s in paramedicine that he earned from Cochise College in 2012.

However, Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr. suggested at an April 3 city council meeting that educational requirements were preventing the city from reviewing qualified job applicants.

Without making specific mention of the NFD position, the council voted to direct the city manager to update city documents in order to “exercise discretion” in considering job applicants without a bachelor’s degree.

On April 15, the NFD chief job description was updated to allow for “an equivalent combination of education, experience, and training” in lieu of a degree, according to Fuentes.

The change did not affect Sargent, whose resume lists a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

But degree requirements have complicated hirings at the fire department in the recent past.

In 2016, Anthony Gonzales was hired to NFD’s top post, only to resign abruptly three months after starting. It was later revealed that Gonzales had not been able to show proof of a bachelor’s degree.

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