Rick Balentine, a 26-year veteran of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, was tapped as fire chief Wednesday evening during officer elections at the fire station.
Balentine, an Aspen resident who ran unopposed, replaces Willard Clapper Jr., who was elected twice and served for about 14 months.
Clapper, who has been with the district for 34 years, is retiring for health reasons. But he also said, as an Emma resident, he wasn’t able to spend as much time at the Hopkins Avenue station as he would have liked.
“I live downvalley, and I need to be here more,” said Clapper, the son of the late Willard Clapper Sr., who was also an Aspen fire chief. “I need to see these guys.”
He called his departure bittersweet but said it was the right thing for the department.
The fire chief job will continue to be an unpaid, volunteer position, at least for another year, Clapper said.
“We need another year to test it,” he said.
The change was made when Clapper was first elected chief, in 2011, following the tenure of former Chief Darryl Grob. Grob was making about $100,000 a year, and officials changed the fire chief position to an unpaid one after he resigned, seeing it as a better fit for the mostly volunteer culture. The department has six paid staffers.
Balentine, who was one of two deputy fire chiefs, will be working with a roughly $1.6 million projected budget for 2013, up slightly over last year.
The Aspen Fire Protection District operates the volunteer fire department using mainly a property tax, which is projected to collect $1.8 million in 2013.
This year’s budget projects spending on firefighting supplies and expenses to be just over $88,000, a marked increase over 2012, which had an estimated $21,300 in spending for the same category.
Marc Zachary was retained as president of the fire department on Wednesday, and Deputy Fire Chief Peter Voorhees maintained his job. David “Wabs” Walbert was elected to the other deputy chief position vacated by Balentine.
Balentine is the principal of the Balentine Collection, a longtime local floor-covering business.
He said his focus will be supporting the department’s “good group of volunteers.” He said he knows he’s taking on a lot of work.
“But I look forward to the challenge,” Balentine said.