Yesterday, the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors held a special meeting regarding the status of Chief Mark Matthews’ employment. After the closed-door session, which is standard protocol for personnel discussions, it was announced that Matthews is “out on medical leave and will not be returning.” The chief’s contract is due to expire at the end of March.
Matthews has been vocal about his health challenges. In October 2017 he informed the Board of Directors of the Palominas Fire District that he would be resigning as fire chief due to a cancer diagnosis. Soon after his departure from the district, several suspicious fire investigations into Matthews and his department were closed, at least one of which was mentioned in the same newspaper article announcing the fire chief’s retirement.
Matthews denies being aware of any investigation into him or his department.
In 2018, Matthews discussed his health with a Mountain Democrat reporter who was writing a profile on the then-new chief of the Pioneer Fire Protection District. In the article, Matthews again mentions that he left the Palominas Fire District due to a cancer diagnosis and “has since been treated and received a clean bill of health.”
Indeed, Matthews resigned from Palominas due to a cancer diagnosis in October 2017 and applied for the position of fire chief at Pioneer the following January. In a previous interview I asked Matthews if he would like to discuss his recovery from cancer. While he declined to discuss the topic on the record, he assured me his diagnosis prevented him from performing his duties in Palaminas and the illness was the sole cause of his departure.
Matthews also spoke of his ill health at a September 2021 community meeting following the destruction of Grizzly Flats. At one point in the meeting, Matthews is discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the department and the importance of getting the vaccine. He said, “I have a rare disease that they told me if I get the vaccine it will kill me (but) I got the vaccine.”
Chief Matthews often mentions his cancer diagnosis, or other unnamed illness, in district board meetings. In our interview, Matthews brought up his ill health several times. When I asked if we could discuss further details he declined. In our discussion he confirmed he would be retiring from Pioneer at the end of March 2022 “as planned.”
Following Matthews’ unexpected medical leave last evening, several sources contacted me regarding his replacement. I am told former Diamond Springs Fire District Chief Bryan Ransdell has been extended a “conditional offer” of employment as the new Pioneer Fire Chief. According to four separate sources familiar with the candidate, Ransdell is currently undergoing a background check. I have reached out to several Pioneer Fire District Board Members. One declined to comment and I did not hear back from the others.
His Linkedin profile suggest Ransdell began working for the Diamond Springs Fire District in 2016. According to minutes from an April 2021 Diamond Springs Fire District Board meeting, Ransdell’s contract was not renewed. The minutes state that “extension of Chief Ransdell’s contract was discussed in closed session…Motion to not renew Chief Ransdells’ contract made by David Phillips.” The motion was then approved in a four to one vote. The minutes do not state why Ransdell’s contract was not renewed.
A week later, the Diamond Springs fire board met again, this time in a special closed session. According to the subsequent report, an acting chief was named “while Chief Ransdell is on Administrative Leave.” Ransdell was never mentioned in board meeting minutes again. It is unclear why Ransdell was placed on administrative leave. I have reached out to Diamond Springs board members and Ransdell for comment and I am waiting for a response.
Future posts will be published as this story develops.