New Gillett fire chief gets down to business

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Kurt Hicks explains his priorities to City Council

Kurt Hicks was elected chief of the City of Gillett Fire Department by his peers Dec. 19. The City Council approved the election of Hicks, as well as Assistant Chief Jake Kulba, on Thursday. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

Training and recruitment are high on the priority list for new Gillett Fire Chief Kurt Hicks.

The 21-year veteran of the department spent a few minutes Thursday talking with the Gillett City Council about his vision for the future. The council approved the department’s election of Hicks and Assistant Chief Jake Kulba.

There are six openings on the city fire department roster, and Hicks said that can be an problem, especially during the day when many volunteers work out of town. He used a call last week as an example.

“I got to the fire department around 11 o’clock, roughly within that range, and I was it,” Hicks said. “Luckily, we had two individuals come in, and luckily, it was not a working fire, but the point is that this is what we’re running into during the day.”

Recruitment, as well as retention of the firefighters now on the roster, will be a point of emphasis.

“There are programs that are out there to help recruitment; we’re surely going to take a look at those,” he said. “If we’ve got to go door to door, whatever it’s going to take, I’ve got to get some new firefighters.”

One change that will help is an upcoming switch to an “all-call” system. When a structure fire is reported in the city or town of Gillett, city or town of Oconto Falls or the town of Underhill, all of those departments will be called simultaneously.

The routine has been for the responding department to call for help if needed when they arrive, which can add 30-40 minutes to the response time, Hicks said.

“This way, we can always call them off,” he said. The change is expected to be implemented by late January or early February.

Training is also a priority for the new chief. He mentioned a couple of recent joint training sessions with the Underhill department.

“I’m proud of our department and where we’ve been, but we want to take it a step higher, and (training) is a huge point of emphasis for us,” Hicks said.

Kulba serves as training officer as well as assistant chief.

Hicks told the council his goals include developing a regular schedule of truck maintenance and replacement, educating firefighters, electing captains and finding funding sources for equipment replacement in a time of tight budgets.

Hicks’ voice broke a little as he said “it’s a real honor” to have been elected chief.

“I watched my dad go in a building when I was a youngster, and I remember how much – it scared the hell out of me, actually, to see my dad go in a building that’s burning. But I understand why he got into it,” he said. “I will always do what’s best for the city and for our fire department – that’s where all my decisions come in. It’s not for individuals. It’s what’s best for the city, and how do we represent our city with our department.”