The Superior Fire Department rung in 2020 with a new building, a new chief, a new fire truck and new technology that will take their work into the digital cloud.
It’s a young crew heading into the new year. Half the department has been there five years or less. Firefighters in their 20s outnumber firefighters in their 50s by 10-to-1.
“The most senior person is not 50 years old — that has never happened in the history of the fire department," said Fire Chief Scott Gordon, 49.
The loss of experience is a challenge, he said.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, the department lost a cumulative 80 years of experience when former Fire Chief Steve Panger, Battalion Chief Steve Edwards and Captain Dave Johnson retired.
It’s also an opportunity for change. Seven years ago, Panger inherited a veteran command staff. Gordon’s command staff has a cumulative three years of experience in administration.
“It allows us to embrace the transition, which is exactly what we’re doing,” Gordon said. “We’re shaking the tree.”
He aims to empower the new command staff, turning them into a true management team with the freedom to run their respective programs. Firefighters will also be more involved in monetary and policy decisions.
That buy-in, and a focus on helping them find a career track, could encourage firefighters to stay in Superior.
“We still have the same budget, we still have the same mission statement," Gordon said. “Now we’re just doing it a little bit differently.”
One change the public will notice is a lack of paper copies when the department does an inspection. The process is going digital on the cloud, an integrated system that puts fire inspections, medical, fire and crash reports under one umbrella instead of three.
Gordon decided to make the change when he realized the department was using 22,000 pieces of paper a year for inspections, reports and inter-operations filing.
“We don’t need to do that anymore,” he said.
The department moved in late June to a new headquarters building at 3326 Tower Ave. At roughly 20,000 square feet, it’s double the size of the former building. The lobby is trimmed in wood that was saved from the Globe Elevator fire in December 2018.
Another big department focus is on health and wellness for firefighters, both physical and mental. The new workout room at the headquarters fire hall has been busy.
“The other day for the first time ever there were six people working out — fire chief, battalion chief, and four people on the fire truck,” Gordon said.
Mental health has taken more prominence since April 2018, when recently retired Battalion Chief Erik Sutton committed suicide.
“There’s no question that we had already started going down that road, but we didn’t know exactly how to do it until we had to deal with it in front of us,” Gordon said. “From now on, nobody will ever not know how to deal with it.”
The department has peer and citywide mental health support available, proactive and reactive, and it’s something Gordon stresses when evaluating firefighters.
“We need to make sure they understand this is a big deal,” he said. “You have resources available to you.”
The Superior Fire Department is rolling with the changes in 2020.
“We’re shaking things up,” Gordon said. “Change can be scary, but it’s not all bad.”
More change is on the way. The Police and Fire Commission will discuss hiring two more firefighters at its Jan. 8 meeting, and new breathing gear for the entire department is slated to arrive early in 2020, purchased through a federal grant.