In-house (interim) chief
Longtime firefighter Bill Hack takes over Chico Fire Department
When Bill Hack becomes interim chief of the Chico Fire Department on New Year’s Day, he’ll be the first Chico firefighter to rise through the ranks internally and get promoted to chief since Elmer Brouillard was appointed in 1953.
It’s not where Hack expected his career would lead. For a long time, he just wanted to be a firefighter.
“I liked going out on emergency calls,” he said. “But as you grow and develop, opportunities come up, and I found that my skill set was best fit to move up in management.”
Through Dec. 31, Hack is still a division chief. Then he’ll replace outbound Fire Chief Shane Lauderdale, who announced his resignation in early December. Lauderdale is taking a position with the North County Fire Authority in San Mateo County.
During a recent interview at Fire Station 1 on Salem Street, Hack discussed his career, keeping the department fully staffed and the importance of stable leadership.
“I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up wanting to be a firefighter,” he said. After graduating from UC Davis in 1992 with a degree in policy analysis and planning, Hack worked as a hazardous materials consultant in the Bay Area. But as a lifelong athlete who had played football in college, solitary work didn’t suit him.
“I was doing my own thing; a lone fish swimming upstream,” he said. “I missed the camaraderie of a team.”
He gravitated to fire service and completed the Butte College Fire Academy about 20 years ago. In 1995, he was hired by the Chico Fire Department.
Being promoted to chief, even in an interim capacity, “is an honor and privilege,” Hack said. The next several months will be a trial period of sorts during which City Manager Mark Orme may appoint Hack as the permanent chief or open an outside search. Hack expects to be evaluated based on his leadership abilities, communication with the city’s executives and approach to challenges ahead.
The first order of business is seeking an extension for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant awarded to the city back in April 2014. The $5.29 million federal grant, which created 15 new positions for the department, is set to expire this spring. An extension would help fund the positions for another six to seven months, Hack said, and he’ll pursue a second SAFER grant that would provide two more years of funding and allow him to hire four new firefighters.
Day-to-day operations won’t change much, he said. Hack intends to build on the work of Lauderdale, who often was praised by members of the Chico City Council for implementing a proactive fire protection model, reducing the department’s expenditure on overtime hours and creating a Community Risk Reduction Division. Hack called Lauderdale’s tenure “transformational” and wants to continue making Chico safer.
Of chief concern are old Victorian-style homes in the south campus neighborhood and the closely adjoining buildings in Chico’s downtown core, where flames could easily leap structure-to-structure. Within the next couple of years, Hack said, he’ll introduce an ordinance that would require old buildings to be retrofitted with up-to-date sprinkler systems during remodeling.
“Over time, that will make it a safer community,” Hack said, “and you’ll have a smaller standing firefighter force.”
As for the high turnover rate among chiefs in recent years, Hack recognizes the benefit of long-term leadership. He hopes that his relatively young management team—Hack is 46 years old, and the department’s four division chiefs are all in their 40s—will provide stability at the top “for the next decade.”