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Superior Fire Department fills assistant fire chief position

Howard Huber is a 16-year veteran of the department.

New assistant fire chief Howard Huber stands in front of Engine 1
New Assistant Fire Chief Howard Huber stands in front of Engine 1 at the Superior Fire Department headquarters Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — The fire department has a new assistant fire chief.

Howard Huber, a 16-year veteran of the Superior Fire Department, stepped into the job May 2. The new position is 40 hours per week, Monday through Friday, instead of the firefighters' schedule of 48 hours on, 96 hours off.

“I’m learning what weekends are,” Huber said.

A position that was eliminated in 2006 from the fire department could be filled in July 2022.

His job change has sent a ripple through the department, with Joe Tribbey moving into the battalion chief position that Huber vacated and Greg Wilson taking Tribbey’s captain’s slot. That opened up a driver and assistant fire inspector position, which were filled by Brandon Cardenas and Caleb Sorvik. The final piece of the puzzle, an additional firefighter, will be added in July.

The new administrative position pulls pressure off the three battalion chiefs and Fire Chief Scott Gordon. Huber acts as a sort of chief of staff, overseeing operations, troubleshooting problems, handling issues before they get to the chief so he can maintain his focus

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“I handle just the administrative functions that go with operations, oversight of programs like our committees, hiring and promotions, discipline …” Huber said.

Many of those duties were divided up among battalion chiefs before Huber became assistant chief.

“So they’re able to spend more time being battalion chiefs, you know, spend time with their crews, attend training with the crews — all those things that were really difficult to do when they were heavy in administrative work, so was able to take quite a bit of that off of their plates,” Huber said.

Something as simple as making a schedule and sticking to it or being able to dedicate time to updating standard operating guidelines is now possible, Huber said, because he isn’t constantly being called away. In 2021, the department responded to 4,200 calls.

New assistant fire chief Howard Huber types at his work station
New Assistant Fire Chief Howard Huber types at his work station at the Superior Fire Department on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“It seems like a simple thing, but it’s something that we were always fighting upstream, trying to do business like a normal organization does,” Huber said.

Another thing the assistant chief position brings to the department is a large-scale view.

“You have three battalion chiefs functioning separately. They’re never here at the same time, right? So you have a leadership team that passes the baton at the end of their shift to the next person, but they’re never actually here together,” Huber said. “So now, there’s someone here every day who can help maintain situational awareness of kind of the overarching operations of the department.”

A recent controlled burn of reed canary grass on Barker’s Island was an example of an operation that was made possible by the assistant chief’s position, Gordon said. Huber was able to plan the burn with the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and be on-site to monitor it.

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The city hasn’t had an assistant fire chief since 2005, when then-Assistant Chief Tad Matheson stepped up to serve as acting chief following the removal of former Chief Steve Gotelaere.

Matheson cut the assistant chief's position in 2006 to avoid eliminating a rank-and-file member of the fire department.

The City Council allocated funding to restore the position starting in July. In April, the council approved Gordon’s request to fill the position, and all the subsequent vacancies except the final firefighter, prior to July.

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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