A condensed version of this interview was published in the first issue of our new “Protect & Connect” newsletter, November 2022. If you wish to be on our mailing list, please share your name and mailing address with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Neils became the HLFPD Fire Chief when long-serving Chief Larry Simms retired late in 2021.
When and why did you join the volunteer fire department?
June 1993, just after college… I graduated at a time when there were no jobs available in mechanical engineering so I needed something to do and being active in the community as a part of the fire department looked like a lot of fun!
What has been your biggest challenge?
As a volunteer, balancing work, volunteering, and personal lives. Currently the biggest challenge is keeping up with the demands of the job when there is so much to be done in so little time. He adds, Thank goodness for our volunteers. We always need more.
Of what accomplishments so far are you most proud?
I’m proud of being an officer since 1999 when I became the assistant chief. I’ve been an officer ever since and active the whole time, without taking leave or having a lapse in service except on vacation a few years ago. As chief, I’m also proud of the grants I have secured, my role in increasing our volunteer roster, and arranging for the RIT Prop (rapid intervention training) building behind the station which took several years.
How much training and education goes into your job?
You’re always training; the learning is ongoing. I am not always able to complete it during normal work hours, but there’s training many nights and weekends, sometimes even when I am traveling. Training is fundamental to firefighting and first response since the science evolves and leads to improvements in equipment, tools and tactics.
What about our community requires special consideration?
We have a lot of rural roads and difficult areas to access. Many places require specialized equipment to reach. Sometimes that means we can’t get there very quickly. Luckily, a benefit of being a volunteer department with members all over the district is that folks can respond directly and get there faster. The lake poses some interesting challenges…in fact, two out of the five certified ice rescue instructors in the state of Idaho are members of the Hauser Lake Fire Department. We are an ‘all hazards’ district and must be prepared for a variety of incidents, from normal fire and medical runs to train derailments, hazmat, wildland fires, ice and water rescue, extrication, and basic life support (BLS) medical. We also mutual aid to neighbors all over the region and are one of the only agencies who can provide bariatric transport around Kootenai County. Our quick response apparatus can even be upgraded to an ambulance for Kootenai County. Our people are trained and equipped for all of it.
What’s kept you a member all these years?
I really enjoy the work and the people. I enjoy helping. If you want to provide one of the biggest benefits to the community and help them in the most significant ways, join the fire department. You’ll help people during the worst times of their lives and perhaps make their situation a little better. It’s very fulfilling, very meaningful.
What is the best part? See previous answer.
What do you like least?
Clean up! There’s a lot of cleanup. This is messy work and there’s a lot of behind the scenes work needed to make it possible. Also paperwork!
Fun fact about you?
I’m a private pilot and have instructed firefighters outside of the U.S, in Canada and Europe. I taught engineering at NIC for a time. And I’m currently converting the Camaro I bought in high school to electric, with my sons. Oh, another fun fact… My son, William, just joined the department so he’s the third generation to serve in Hauser and the fourth generation volunteer following in the footsteps of multiple grandparents. I’m proud of that for sure.