Chris Ekk had his eye on the top job at the Hanford Fire Department for a long time.
As far back as 2003, when Ekk was promoted to engineer after three years as a firefighter for HFD, he was thinking about his far future with the department.
“I made the decision this is something I wanted to do. Even in 2003, I was seeing fliers for other departments, the requirements. I wanted to prepare for that,” he said. “My philosophy is always be prepared for that moment.”
When the moment finally arrived this past March with the retirement of Chief Tim Ieronimo, Ekk was ready to take the lead spot.
Hanford’s new chief, who was born and raised in Reedley, started in emergency services as an EMT, and was soon a volunteer firefighter, becoming a full-time employee in 2000. With promotion in mind, Ekk turned his attention to his education, earning an associate degree in fire technology at Fresno City College in 2004, a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development from Fresno Pacific in 2005 and a master’s degree in emergency services administration in 2007 from Cal State Long Beach.
He is also a graduate of the executive fire officer program at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsberg, Md., expanding his firefighting know-how and fostering connections for the Hanford Department with companies around the States.
“It was a unique experience with people from departments all over the country,” he said.
While he was preparing to someday take the lead at the HFD, he was quickly climbing the firefighting ladder, becoming an engineer in 2003, a captain in 2006 and rising to battalion chief two years ago. With 15 years in the HFD under his belt, Ekk is uniquely positioned to know the future needs of the department.
Preparing for the future
“Our needs haven’t changed,” he said. “We still need additional stations and personnel. There are some small, internal changes we’re working on. People looking from the outside wouldn’t notice.”
The city purchased two plots of land that could house Hanford’s third fire station, but that was before the economic downturn of the late 2000’s, which put plans to expand on hold. In the meantime, the city has continued to grow, and now, where a third station would be most effective, is an issue that will have to be revisited, Ekk said.
“The economy slowed down, and everything just got stalled,” he said of previous plans for expansion. “There are other locations being considered. We’re still in the early phases of revisiting it. Budget-wise, can we do it?”
Better equipment needed
Also putting pressure on the HFD’s purse strings is the need for a new ladder truck. The additional firetruck is needed, Ekk said, to provide the capability to fire fires in larger, taller buildings. The need is more acute now, as plans for additional hotels in Hanford are in the works.
“We currently have an apparatus with a ladder, but it’s only 50 feet,” Ekk said. “We have three-story buildings we can’t reach, including our hospital and hotels.”
A truck with a longer reach could have made a big difference in the outcome of the 2012 fire that destroyed the historic Vendome Building at 8th St. and Irwin Ave.
“We could have done some different tactics, maybe saved most of the building,” Ekk said. “We need to get over the building to get water in the right place. It’s a reach problem.”
The new truck, which has a larger carrying capacity than those the department has in its fleet, would also function as a rescue vehicle for non-fire emergencies, carrying tools such as the jaws of life. The price tag, however, is hefty, ringing up at around $1 million.
“We’re working with the manufacturer on funding options,” Ekk said.
The department is also working on getting the community and the department more aligned in working toward their common goals. In particular, Ekk would like to see more citizens lending a hand in aiding the department as it works emergencies, such as providing water to firefighters on scene and filling other roles volunteer and paid firefighters currently cover.
“How can we get more members of the community involved in support positions?” Ekk asked. He also hopes that staff — which he describes as a “tough, dedicated group of people” — can also make a deeper connection in return.
“We’re looking at ways of how we can be an integral part of the community,” he said. “Our department is dedicated to providing the best service we can.”