Friday, September 27, 2013

Fire chief reflects on long career

Mike Chapman set to retire from Hailey squad

Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman leads firefighters through a training exercise.
Express file photo

    After serving more than 22 years as the Hailey fire chief, Mike Chapman will soon step down from his post.  
    “It’s been a great ride, and I am certainly going to miss it,” Chapman said in an interview this week.
    Chapman’s last official day with the department will be Thursday, Oct. 17, at which time he will relocate to Denver to be closer to family.
    Chapman has spent close to 40 years as a firefighter. He started his career in Vail, Colo., before relocating to Hailey. During his time as the city’s fire chief, he has seen the department evolve into a multi-dimensional emergency response team.
    As the city’s needs have changed over the years, Chapman said the idea that the fire department only fights structure fires is an outdated one. In the last 10 years, local wildfires have gotten larger and necessitated increased response, he said. This has required the department to become an all-hazards team, responding to a variety of emergency calls. From rescuing animals to responding to airplane crashes, the duties of local firefighters have “never gotten old or tired,” Chapman said.
    Chapman noted that one of the challenges associated with responding to various calls has been getting enough training hours for each firefighter to be an expert at everything the job requires.
    “We’ve had to get by with training a few people to be the experts in different areas, and hope that they’re available,” he said. “Hopefully, we have enough solid combinations of personnel to respond to any incident.”
    Recalling one of his proudest achievements, Chapman said that he has not had one fire fatality in the city during his service.
    “While we’ve fought several hundred structure fires and responded to over 10,000 emergency calls, we’ve never lost a firefighter or a citizen to a fire,” he said. “We have had injuries that have required some people to go to the hospital, but never an overnight stay that I can remember.”  
    Looking toward the future, Chapman expressed a need for increased involvement from the community, and further updating of the city’s older buildings.
    “While Hailey has close to zero indebtedness, this has required operating on a shoestring budget throughout the city,” he said. “We’re just not able to do the capital improvements that the city needs.”
    Chapman expressed regret in leaving close friends and the community, but said he is looking forward to a new life adventure.
    “A lot of the original crew when I came here is still here,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them.”
    Currently, the city is in the final screening phase of hiring a new fire chief. Having finished the first set of interviews, city officials will continue through a second round that will include a meet-and-greet session at Hailey City Hall. Applicants will have the opportunity to meet with local government agencies and mutual-aid partners. The public event is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 4:30 p.m.

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