SHERIDAN — Sheridan County fire warden Bill Biastoch plans to make April 30 his final day before retirement. The decision gives Sheridan County commissioners the ability to move forward in the process of hiring Biastoch’s replacement.
Biastoch announced his retirement in mid-January but did not set a specific date. For commissioners to move forward in the process of hiring Biastoch’s replacement, he needed to put a retirement date in writing.
“The problem, though, is making the transition,” Sheridan County Commissioner Steve Maier said to Biastoch in a meeting Monday. “You’ve announced that you’re going to retire. In my mind we need to know when that is so we can begin a process to hire this person who can take over.”
Biastoch listed numerous projects still in the works that he wanted to complete or help his predecessor transition into if possible.
Biastoch said three checks remain for payments in conjunction with the fires near Clearmont last fall. Costs for the fire came in around $250,000 just for Clearmont’s part in the fire, not including state and federal entities’ associated costs. Biastoch said he should be able to finalize that work in the next few weeks.
The annual operating plan, upon its completion, will need signatures from Sheridan County and the six fire districts. After a few revisions, Biastoch sent the most recent version to the attorney’s office for review. Biastoch expects completion of that task by April.
Within two weeks, Biastoch anticipates finishing paperwork for a grant received yearly by the county fire warden to reimburse the state’s emergency fire suppression account or supplement the county fire warden’s salary.
The local branch of the U.S. Forest Service changed its radio frequencies. Biastoch said 150 radios will need reprogrammed, too.
Conversations between entities out of Montana are planned to establish standard frequencies and protocol for fires along the border.
Finally, Biastoch said he put in a couple years’ work on fuel breaks, or fire mitigation through controlled burns, in the Story area. The process required a lot of verbal conversations and agreements between private landowners and the Sheridan Recreation District. Biastoch estimated completion of that project by December and asked to be able to work on that and other projects on the side as a “deputy, deputy” fire warden.
He asked if he could be covered to complete these jobs if they needed to complete a burn. Commissioners again asked for a set retirement date so they could begin step one of the hiring process, and they would then discuss the ability to have Biastoch complete his work in Story through an agreement similar to contract labor.
“I see what you’re trying to do, there’s just a lot of personal commitment that’s been made in this,” Biastoch said. “And because of that personal commitment, I’m trying to live up to it so we don’t fall.”
Commissioner Tom Ringley said no job is ever done, and with a retirement date, the county commission could at least proceed into the transition plan.
“I’m not really in favor of the old guy hanging around when the new guy comes on,” Ringley said. “If you get the right new guy, they ought to be able to pick up (past projects), because nothing is ever totally done.”
Sheridan County administrative director Renee Obermueller said following a written confirmation of Biastoch’s retirement date, the commission would receive an appointment recommendation from the Sheridan County fire board. Then, the commissioners would appoint someone to the position of Sheridan County fire warden, similar to appointments for county engineer or city planner. The fire warden is categorized as a county employee and receives partial benefits according to the established protocol for all part-time county employees.
Biastoch said he would be able to have the written consent to the commission by the end of this week, officially marking April 30 as his last day.