Williams first paid fire chief looks back on first year
Williams fire chief reflects on first year, reveals plans for 2024
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — It has almost been a year since Williams native Chase Pearson was selected to be the new paid fire chief at the Williams Fire Department. Pearson’s addition is only the beginning of the exciting changes coming soon to Williams.
Before the new paid position was created, the fire department was volunteer-only. With the limited number of volunteers and their time available, it was a challenge for the fire department to enhance their response times and community safety.
In February 2022, the city of Williams conducted a study with the Public Safety Research Group (PSRG) and developed a plan to switch to a department with a combination of paid employees and volunteers.
“We reached out to them when we noticed a drop in the number of calls that we were able to answer and that we were having fewer volunteers answer those calls,” Pearson said.
The decision was finalized in August 2022 and the paid fire chief position was the first step to achieving their goal for improvement.
Pearson officially began his role as the first paid fire chief at the end of January. He has extensive experience working as a firefighter for multiple fire districts and was the volunteer fire chief for many years at the Williams Fire Department until the paid position opened up.
After almost one year in the new position, Pearson stated that he has enjoyed being able to commit more time to the fire department and the community. He clarifies that his experience in firefighting and his emergency medical training helped him gain as much knowledge as possible to give back to the community.
“This is one of the most rewarding positions, and the reason I was able to do this was because of the experience I had in Williams (as a volunteer) and also getting my paramedic certification,” Pearson said. “I want to be able to help out as much as I can.”
Currently with only one paid position, the fire department still relies on volunteers, but Pearson makes an effort to manage their time wisely.
“Volunteers are a huge part of everything that we do,” Pearson said. “I’ve been able to take a load (of work and stress) off of the volunteers, but also make their time more effective and efficient. Now they can focus on the things that motivate them.”
Since Pearson’s addition, the Williams Fire Department has already made improvements around town. Some of these improvements include more time for administrative work, better emergency response times and more community outreach. Pearson said that it has allowed him to follow through on plans that have been previously put together, but never reached completion.
“Making sure the turnouts are in date, making sure that we get the tools and equipment ordered on time,” Pearson said. “Those are the things I feel good about, that I was able to help get that done.”
With the new year on the horizon, one of WFD’s plans for department improvement includes more paid personnel. WFD is planning on hiring three full-time firefighters in the near future. The department is looking both internally and externally for possible candidates.
“We have some very dedicated volunteers and individuals that may not have that same stack of certifications that someone who has been full-time for a long time has, but they’re the right person that is going to be able to fill that role,” Pearson said.
Pearson mentioned that previously volunteers weren’t able to take time off to get their certifications for the department. He said these new positions will provide them the time and support needed to be as successful as possible.
“I’m grateful to be in this position because of the understanding I have to work with volunteers and how we make that huge transition from all-volunteer to a combination-style department, and how to keep everyone involved,” Pearson said.
With the close addition of employees on 24-hour shifts, the department has worked to fine tune their policies and procedures as well as budgeting for a firefighter on-call house.
Pearson said having a department house for employees and volunteers would provide for quicker response times. He added that having a full-time manager on shift with a volunteer at the station will provide the community with better training and preparation for community safety.
911 system changes
Planning to be implemented in the next year, the department has developed a new ordinance for community emergency communication. With the number of calls increasing for the fire department, the ambulance company and the police department, the response times are not as aligned as they had hoped, Pearson said.
In Williams, the new ordinance will require Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to not only go to the ambulance company, but also the fire department in case of delays on either end. With this, dispatching goes through the police department and fire department, then gets forwarded to the ambulance company in case of needed transportation.
Another issue the Williams departments are facing is the routing of emergency calls to other towns in the region.
“If a 911 call doesn’t go through the Williams Dispatch Center, because it’s from a cell phone or the line is busy, it just gets routed to another communication center,” Pearson said.
He said if a call takes place slightly outside of Williams, the call could get routed to a third-party dispatch center or Department of Public Safety. If it is an EMS call near Williams, it may not go to Williams dispatch, which could make slower response times. The new ordinance will fix this miscommunication by also notifying Williams emergency services for the quickest action possible.
"We want to make sure that we are providing the highest level of service that we can to the community,” Pearson said. “We need to make sure that we have good communication with each other.”
Since the addition of the new fire chief, the city of Willliams has gone through significant changes and Pearson has made it clear that there is no slowing down for the fire department. While some of these changes will take more time than others, Pearson expressed excitement to implement these changes for the department.
“We’ve done very well, we’ve been able to maintain the level of service that I think has been very good for this city and for the community,” Pearson said. "I would say this year has already been a major year and next year is going to be even more so.”