PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker was placed on paid administrative leave Saturday. Then just hours later, he resigned, according to the Oregon State Police.
OSP did not immediately provide a reason for Walker’s departure. However, Walker spoke with KOIN 6 News Saturday evening during which he said he was placed on leave by OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton after trying to help a co-worker whose family was missing in a fire zone.
“I did so with the specific understanding that my visit had been cleared with the appropriate team personnel,” said Walker. He said after, Hampton’s assessment was that he had overstepped his role and took action without the authority to do so.
“And although I’m losing my job because of it, I would do it again,” said Walker. He said he was an at-will employee, so he could “be dismissed for any reason whatsoever.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong that would lead to me resigning,” said Walker. “My take is, if I don’t have confidence from management, then it’s not an agency I want to continue to work for.”
He said it was a difficult decision to make at this particular time as wildfires grip the state. Walker has worked for the State Fire Marshal’s Office since 2009.
“To come into the office on a Friday thinking you were doing the right thing—I care about my employees—and then to be put on administrative leave when we have catastrophic fires, which I’ve been actively involved with…so for me to be put on administrative leave when I’m the highest level fire official in the state does not make any sense at all to me, whatsoever,” said Walker.
KOIN 6 News has reached out to officials at OSP, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the office of Governor Kate Brown for a response and is waiting to hear back.
Chief Deputy becomes State Fire Marshal
Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple was appointed to be the acting state fire marshal, and upon Walker’s resignation, Ruiz-Temple was officially made Fire Marshal of Oregon.
“Mariana is assuming this position as Oregon is in an unprecedented crisis which demands an urgent response,” said OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton in a release earlier Saturday. “This response and the circumstances necessitated a leadership change. I have the absolute confidence in Mariana to lead OSFM operations through this critical time. She is tested, trusted, and respected – having the rare combination of technical aptitude in field operations and administration.”
While visiting evacuees in Salem Saturday afternoon, Governor Kate Brown said, “Mariana has been the Deputy Fire Marshal and been in charge for the last several days. I have full and complete confidence in her ability to lead the Fire Marshals Office and lead the proactive response to this fire. She has been extremely transparent, she acts with courage and honestly with grace. She’ll do a terrific job in her new role as State Fire Marshal.”