Mills firefighters are optimistic about the future following Monday's hiring of Dave North to lead the fire department, according to a union representative.

"It sounds like he's going to be bringing quite a bit to the table regarding experience," Mills Professional Fire Fighters Association spokesman Tyler Houser said Friday. "The fact that we get to continue to work, serve our citizens and work with our new chief — I think it's only going to be optimistic."

Mills Town Council members voted Monday to hire North as Emergency Services Personnel Manager and Fire Chief.

The decision to hire North was met with criticism from some Mills residents, who noted that North has never served as a firefighter. However, North said Wednesday that he has an extensive background in fire investigation, with experience in the oilfield.

"I've been involved in safety, as far as fire safety and things that are directly related to the fire department for a long time," North said.

Mills resident Leah Juarez told council members Wednesday night that she is just as qualified as North to lead the department, citing prior hazardous material training.

"I own a day spa," Juarez said. "I own a consulting business that deals with asbestos abatement and inspection. I have done fire inspection myself.

"It's all about how you paint the picture."

But Houser said, after sitting down and chatting with North, it's clear that the new chief has more experience than has been let on. The union spokesperson said it has become apparent that North has "quite a bit" of experience with industrial safety, hazardous materials and through working with Wyoming Game and Fish.

North has worked on controlled burns in the past.

"He definitely brings stuff to the table," Houser said. "We're a fairly busy station so that experience can definitely continue to grow with us. We're looking forward to it."

Houser added that morale in the Mills fire station has improved since firefighters learned they would continue serving their community after July 1. In April, council members voted to end the salaried fire service. At the time, union representatives claimed the decision was made in retaliation to broken-down contract negotiations. 

Following North's hire, some Mills residents have expressed concerns that he was brought on to dismantle the fire department from within, an allegation he flatly denied.

"We're not dismantling the department — that I will tell you 100 percent," North said.

North added the only major change he's looked at is bringing on volunteer firefighters to supplement the salaried staff.

The new chief said he looks forward to growing the new department. A week in, he's assessed what equipment firefighters need to safely and effectively do their jobs. His coming in from an outside perspective could be positive for the department, he said.

Houser agreed: "Sometimes it's good to get a little outside input from another individual. It's always good to have a little fresh air to breathe after the last holdup.

"He's come in and introduced himself to every firefighter. He's told the firefighters that he's there to support us and help us through any wants or needs. He looks forward to keeping us open and we're just hoping we get to continue to serve and have the ability to run our fire department."