| 4 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, firstname.lastname@example.org |
The new fire chief for Scio Township has been busy in his first few weeks on the job.
As the COVID-19 situation turned into a local, national and world emergency even more so over the past few weeks, Andy Houde started his new role as the fire chief after being hired on by the Scio Township Board over the past two months, which picked him from a pool of qualified candidates.
Considering some might need time to adjust to a new job, Houde has hit the ground running.
“Obviously the current COVID-19 outbreak changed the focus of my job right at the start, however overall things are going well,” Houde said. “The firefighters and officers have all been very welcoming and have helped make the transition great. Scio Township has a great group of firefighters providing service to the community, very knowledgeable and all care greatly for the community.”
Houde comes to Scio Township after nearly 24 years with the Harrison Township Fire Department, where he served as Battalion Chief since 2010.
He also comes to the township with some important goals in mind.
“First thing is to evaluate, evaluate, and evaluate,” Houde said. “It’s good to get a fresh set of eyes on everything, from fire apparatus to policies and evaluate how we do things.”
He said short term goals are to develop a vehicle replacement schedule, review and update the department’s policies, and get to work on renovation of the fire station.
“It is my hope that we can get much of this in place over the upcoming year,” he said.
“Longer term is evaluate our response to major incidents, such as building fires or vehicle extrications, as they occur less frequently and will take longer to fully evaluate,” he said.
“We need to develop a strategic plan for the department, considering the amount of new development we have going in,” he said. “Developing a fire inspection program is important as well, as this is an area that we are currently lacking in.”
One big thing to get a handle on will be the future of the fire station and its condition.
“I have already talked to many of the firefighters about the issues with the building and have been involved in one meeting (partly virtual) with the architect and township officials about the needs of the fire station,” he said. “I am hoping to see updated plans in the near future, and start seeing the improvements begin this spring/summer—obviously some of this depends on how severe the COVID-19 outbreak hampers the construction industry.”
He said he has an office in the building, so he is in this along with all the firefighters.
“It is our building and we are going to make sure it is safe and meets the needs of the firefighters and community,” he said.
As plans come in, he said they will be shared with the firefighters, making sure everyone has input on the plan.
“The more eyes on this, the better the outcome will be,” he said of the station’s future.
He said the initial phase will likely be to address the envelope of the building (the roof and exterior walls), making sure that the work they do inside the building is protected. After that, he said interior reconfiguring will take place and it will be designed to meet the emerging needs of the fire service and extend the life of the building.
“As we get plans back and begin working with a construction manager, we will have a better view of the timeline, but the plan is to get the building issues addressed as soon as possible,” he said.
However, at the moment, one of the main challenges before the fire department is COVID-19.
“In my first week, the COVID-19 outbreak gained attention nationally, which caused us to modify many of our procedures and increase our level of personal protective equipment for use when treating suspected infections,” Houde said. “With guidance from the state and county, we have in place a solid plan that will help keep our firefighters safe and able to serve the community.”
He said the fire department is working with neighboring departments on contingency planning and they are going to make sure that they all have adequate fire protection should the firefighters start getting sick with COVID-19.
“We are putting into place accelerated cleaning procedures within the building to make sure that exposure is lessened and we have restricted access to the fire station,” Houde said. “By cancelling public events and making it an “appointment only” basis, we are further reducing risk of firefighters contracting COVID-19 and helping ensure we can continue to deliver service to the community.”
In looking to the community, Houde said he wants them to know he’s on the job.
“My policy is to have an open door and open lines of communication with the community,” he said. “If (community) members have questions about our service or are looking for general information, I’m available to them. I’m happy to meet with anyone—obviously with restrictions as the outbreak necessitates— in the community who has an interest in how their fire service functions or just a question or comment.”