The City of Omaha has narrowed its search for a new fire chief to a list of four finalists — all of whom have served with the Omaha Fire Department.
The Mayor's Office announced Thursday that it had selected the four from a field of 15 candidates who applied after a national search.
The finalist list includes Interim Chief Bernie Kanger, who has been serving in the department's top spot since August. The others are Assistant Chiefs Steve Ausdemore and Shane Hunter, and retired Battalion Chief Joseph Mancuso.
The four were selected after a series of tests and interviews by an outside firm. They were interviewed by a panel of fire chiefs from other cities. The city budgeted $182,000 for the process, the Mayor's Office said.
The remaining 11 contenders were all candidates from outside the Omaha Fire Department.
All four of the finalists started with the department in the 1990s.
Ausdemore was hired in 1991 and was promoted to assistant chief in 2010, while Hunter was hired in 1997 and became an assistant chief in 2012.
Kanger joined the department in 1991 and was serving as a battalion chief before he was named interim chief.
Mancuso was hired in 1992 and retired in March 2013 as a battalion chief. If he is selected, he will have to pay back all pension payments and benefits he's received since he retired.
Mayor Jean Stothert and three of her top staff members will interview the four finalists and make a decision by March 10.
The appointment of a new chief follows a period of tension between the Mayor's Office and the Fire Department.
Kanger's interim appointment came after the departure of then-Chief Mike McDonnell, who went on administrative leave in August and later retired.
McDonnell and Stothert sparred for months over budget, staff and management issues. He formally retired in November with a $124,000 annual pension.
In the fall, with the department poised to spend millions more than it was budgeted, Stothert threatened layoffs if the fire union didn't agree to cuts. After a long series of negotiations, the mayor agreed to hold off on layoffs after the union agreed to trim the size of its paramedic training program.
Stothert has praised Kanger for his efforts to make additional budget reductions across the department. Among other changes, he shifted people out of the department's fire prevention bureau to fire suppression and moved assistant fire chiefs from a 24-hour schedule to a 40-hour workweek. Those swaps saved $300,000, he said.