Michael Sherman is the interim Idyllwild fire chief. He is the former Crest Forest Fire Department chief.
The Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) commission appointed Sherman at its Jan. 10 meeting. Sherman comes to IFPD with decades of experience as a fire chief, not just in fire service. He also comes from a department that faced the same serious financial condition as IFPD is encountering.
Despite rumors that he left Crest Forest bankrupt and in the hands of county receivers, the truth is just the opposite. He and the board enacted a budget that is balanced and beginning to re-establish Crest Forest reserves.
“We were solving budget problems caused by the economy,” he explained. “They didn’t have the money to pay at the level they’re at and maintain their reserves.”
Sherman acknowledges that the Crest Forest board considered alternative service providers, but examining those options was a necessary step for the fire board to legitimately assess the paths which could then ensure the community’s fire protection and medical service.
Crest Forest, while larger than IFPD, provides the same services — fire protection and emergency medical aid.
Sherman is a native Californian and started his fire career in 1975 at Chino. Four years later, he was a captain at Yucca Valley. He earned his bachelor’s degree in fire administration, and spent time in Santa Cruz before starting his chief’s career in La Grande, Ore.
That is where he encountered his first budget crisis. Oregon voters enacted their version of California’s Proposition 13. Sherman then had to let staff go, nearly a quarter of his department. Next he became the Newberg, Ore., fire chief, where he encountered the opposite situation — an expanding department.
“It went from four paid staff to 24 when I left,” he said. It was here that Sherman learned how much a department is “about community and service to the community.”
A man of deep faith, Sherman voluntarily retired from his Crest Forest position. The budget savings, more than $200,000, enables the district to continue to employ three firefighters. Crest Forest used a federal grant to pay their salaries last year and this year. Its regulations prohibit laying them off. So the choice was continue its deficit or retire and make the funds available for three families.
Sherman also earned a master’s degree. Combining his experience and education, he became a fire department consultant for a decade. Then in 2006, Crest Forest called.
But he takes no action without the concurrence of his personal advisor and wife, Betty.