New Fire Chief David DeVeau has two major goals as he takes command of the Chewelah Fire Department, and he is taking steps to help ensure that those objectives are accomplished.
“My two most important goals,” said DeVeau, “are to never lose a firefighter and to never lose a structure.
Because of his previous firefighting training and experience in Texas, he has been able to make procedural changes here in Chewelah that have improved the time it takes to be on the scene and begin fighting a fire.
One of those changes has to do with the way the hoses are stored in the back of the fire trucks.
“I had the guys show me how they got the hoses out of the truck,” explained DeVeau. “It took four guys and four minutes to do it. We then reloaded the truck using my hose configuration and did it again. It took me only eight seconds. So, we reconfigured all of the hoses in all of our trucks.”
Another change had to do with the job of the assistant chief when the fire alarm sounded.
“Before I came here, the assistant chief always rode in the truck,” said DeVeau. “Now, he does not stop at the fire station at all. He drives the command vehicle and goes directly to the fire. When he gets there, he assesses the situation and radios the information back to the station and the trucks. He paints a picture of the scene before we get there. That way, everyone knows the situation before they arrive at the fire.
“By the time the trucks get to the fire, the assistant chief has already decided where to park the trucks, which fire hydrant to hook the hoses up to, if there are occupants in the house, and how the fire will be fought. Those important decisions have already been made before the trucks arrive and we no longer have to make an action plan at the scene of the fire, which saves time.”
According to DeVeau, it is all a matter of safety and speed, and speed adds to safety.
“Right now, we can have the hoses hooked up and be into the structure 30 seconds after arriving at the scene of the fire. As soon as the truck stops, the driver starts the pump and is ready to deliver water as soon as the hose is hooked to the hydrant. When the men get off the truck, they are fully dressed in their gear and have their air tanks on, ready to go to work.”
DeVeau said that assistant chief Kim Allen can be on the scene of a fire three minutes after the alarm goes out. The first truck can arrive in six to eight minutes with at least four firefighters aboard. The second truck can be there four or five minutes later.
He further believes that had his assistant chief not quickly been at the scene of a fire on North Ridge Street in July, they would have lost the house.
“When Kim arrived at the scene, there was a six-foot wall of flames coming up the hill, trees were burning 30 feet above the ground, and the wood pile next to the house was on fire. Had he not been there to assess the situation and make an action plan before the trucks arrived, we would have lost that house. As it turned out, only the side of the house was burned and there was smoke in the attic.”
DeVeau believes the Chewelah Fire Department is very close to being as good as any paid fire department.
“We are a family,” he said. “I have received amazing support from the members of the department. The only difference between us and a paid fire department is training. I get these guys for training only two hours per month, but they are like sponges. They want to learn. So, I add something new to their training every month. The next thing I want to do is set up joint training with the District Four Fire Department. I hope we can have mutual training and work together.”
DeVeau and his wife Reynetta bought property east of Chewelah on Flowery Trail Road two and a half years ago.
“I’m a cold weather person, but my wife didn’t think she would like a colder climate,” said DeVeau. “I love the wintertime, because I like to ski, so I get excited for it to start snowing. It got too expensive to drive to Colorado to ski every year.
“In Texas, where we came from, I felt that we were trapped in an extremely harsh environment. It was always hot, and it hardly ever snowed down there. When it did snow a half-inch or so, it would double the population of the town, because everyone would build two or three snowmen.
“But, one day in the early morning when my wife was dragging the garbage out to the road, all hot and sweaty, she said, ‘Find us a place to live where it’s not so hot’ and I started looking.”
DeVeau and his wife made a list of criteria for the location of their new home. It had to be a small town in the mountains with lots of lakes and no wind. They started looking all over the western United States. In the end, Chewelah was the only town that met their requirements.
“We fell in love with Chewelah,” said DeVeau. “The town I grew up in about an hour north of Austin was this same size. I knew the people I saw as I drove through town. Now, it’s the same here. I know a lot of the people I see here in town.
“We bought property here in April of 2010, but we had to wait until my fire department career down in Texas came to an end before we could move. I had built up two and a half months of vacation, so I used that time to build our house.
“I built our house with only a generator. I had no electricity and no water. It was like a long camping trip. I then flew back to Texas to sign my retirement papers and we moved to Chewelah. The house was only half finished when my wife arrived.”
The DeVeau’s fears about living in a different climate soon vanished.
“I like how one season follows another here,” said DeVeau. “I never get bored of the weather, and I never have to wear sun screen. Where we came from, you’re burnt in 10 minutes without sun screen.
“Down in Texas, when it gets hot, people get really grumpy. There are no grumpy people here in Chewelah.”
DeVeau lived here for over a year before he decided to join the Chewelah Fire Department.
“I finally decided to go down to city hall and fill out an application,” he recalled. “I did not know if Doug Sassman, the fire chief, would even accept me or that the guys on the department would vote me in, because I had been a paid firefighter for such a long time.
“I have 26 years of firefighting experience,” he said, “with 24 of those years spent in Austin, Texas. I had planned to get to 25 years there before I retired, but I didn’t make it. I decided to retire a year early to move up here.”
DeVeau was voted into the fire department in August of last year, and three months later he was put in charge of training. Now, he is the fire chief.
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: David DeVeau is the new Fire Chief for Chewelah’s Fire Department. He has 26 years of firefighting experience and recently retired from the Austin (Texas) Fire Department. Jared Arnold photo