Being a firefighter is a unique occupation. Even more unique is that Brian Vogel is fire chief of Yakima County Fire District #5, the largest fire district in the state of Washington.
"I am pretty excited about it," said Vogel of his new job.
Vogel, 43, took over the duties of chief today (Thursday), replacing the retired Mark Kimm. Kimm officially retired from the fire district Wednesday, leaving behind a 33-year career, nine of which was as the chief.
Vogel is a native of Toppenish and currently lives in Outlook with his wife, Sheryl. The couple has two children, Nick and Jordan.
Fire fighting sort of runs in the blood for Vogel. His father, Bill, retired from the fire management office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Vogel first became involved with the county fire district, which covers 700 square miles, in 1981, volunteering in the Toppenish station. While he volunteered at the county station, Vogel continued working at Safeway in Toppenish, a job he had held since he was 16 years old.
"It was a good job," said Vogel. "But I knew it was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."
Vogel wasn't initially interested in a career in fire fighting. He went to college and took some pre-law classes with the desire of going into law enforcement. Vogel joked that he decided to switch careers because he didn't like the idea of shift work.
Vogel earned his break with the fire district in 1983, starting out as a firefighter, then moving to zone chief for the county's station in Grandview. Due to some reorganization, Vogel was promoted to the position of battalion chief, where he oversaw the day-to-day operations for four fire stations-Grandview, Sunnyside, Mabton and Outlook. The position of battalion chief has since been changed to captain. In 1999, Vogel was named to the position of deputy chief, who works directly under the fire chief. Vogel replaced the legendary Dave Donaldson, whom he considers one of his mentors in the firefighting profession.
"He was a good teacher," said Vogel. "He was a very professional fireman. I had a lot of good teachers. I had a lot of good mentors."
In his role as deputy chief, Vogel oversaw the four captains that look over the operations of the 16 fire stations within the district.
"It was more of an administrative role," said Vogel.
Vogel decided to apply for the position of fire chief because it was the next step in his career.
"It was just a career goal of mine from the day I started," said Vogel. "It is something I am looking forward to doing."
Vogel doesn't expect things to change all that much since he has taken over the lead role in the district. Vogel said one of the important aspects of the job he learned from Kimm was to involve the rest of the staff.
"He made an effort to give everybody a voice," said Vogel. "That didn't mean he would always agree with you, but he gave everybody an opportunity to be heard."
Vogel said he wants to continue the tradition Kimm had in the district of including everyone in the decision making.
"Hopefully, everybody still feels their opinion is valuable," said Vogel. "It is going to be a group effort."
Kimm left the fire district in great shape, said Vogel.
"The district has moved light years ahead of where it was," said Vogel.
Vogel hopes to keep that momentum going in his new position, but he also has some other goals he wants to address.
"I would really like for the people of our district to know who we are," said Vogel. "A lot of people don't really realize there is a fire district that protects them."
Vogel said there have been several occasions where he has gone out to fight a fire and people think that the county personnel work for one of the cities. Vogel said the fire district has been working hard over the last few years to establish its own identity, and he wants to keep that momentum going. Vogel is also hoping that increased publicity will help boost the number of volunteers in the district. Vogel wants people to see volunteering with the county fire department can lead to a good career.
"Within our district, most people who come to work here stay here," said Vogel.
Vogel, though, is expecting to face some tough decisions if any more tax cutting initiatives pass. Vogel deals with a nearly $3 million budget that comes strictly from property tax revenue. With that money, Vogel oversees 20 paid staff, which includes administrators, firemen and dispatchers, and 16 different fire stations within a 700 square mile area. Vogel said the fire district has always prided itself with never having to go to the voters with a special bond or levy to pay for services.
"We still don't want to go to a bond issue," said Vogel. "But, it is going to come to the point where we won't have much choice."
Vogel is looking forward to a prosperous career as the new chief.
"The next year I am going to be learning the little things that Mark did," said Vogel. "I love my job. There haven't been any days that I have woke up and haven't wanted to go to work."