TWIN FALLS — Les Kenworthy feels prepared to take on Twin Falls Fire Department’s upcoming challenges with population growth.
On Monday, the City Council approved the city manager’s recommendation to appoint Kenworthy as the city’s new fire chief. The Seattle-area native had thoroughly researched Twin Falls — quickly making himself the most prepared of the candidates interviewed by selection committees. Thirty-two people from 17 states applied for the job.
Kenworthy was sworn in at the meeting, but he steps into his job on March 12.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to find Les, and hope Les feels he’s gone to great lengths to find us,” City Manager Travis Rothweiler told the Council. “Les simply wasn’t looking for the next job. He was looking for a place where he could make a significant impact.”
Kenworthy began his residential firefighting career in King County, Wash., in 1977. He joined the Mercer Island Fire Department in 1980, and has served there more than 37 years — and the past three years as its deputy fire chief.
But even with Kenworthy’s impressive background, City Councilman Chris Talkington seized the opportunity to put the applicant in the hot seat at Monday’s meeting. Talkington asked Kenworthy what he saw as the top three challenges for Twin Falls’ fire department in his first year.
With the city’s growth, Kenworthy said, he believes the top challenges will be the impact to the fire department with responding to medical calls, and how he will manage department staffing and resources.
“I am looking forward to being able to contribute what I have to offer,” he said.
Kenworthy’s appointment was confirmed by a 7-0 vote — Talkington with “an enthusiastic yes.” The new fire chief was then given the oath of office by Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar.
Rothweiler said Kenworthy’s peers have described him as a “leader’s leader.”
Kenworthy, 56, told the Times-News that he and his wife, Julie, have vacationed in Idaho fore years.
“We’ve always liked Idaho. We’ve always liked Twin Falls,” he said. “We’re ready to move out of the Seattle area and get into a more rural area.”
He also sought the opportunity for a promotion. Kenworthy had gone through a job search process in La Grande, Ore., but decided the area wasn’t a good fit. But he’d heard that Twin Falls is a bigger city that still feels like a smaller city.
What really impressed him, however, was the city’s and the fire department’s leadership. Kenworthy recalled reaching out to Barigar over the phone while he was doing his research, and he said the mayor was more than willing to answer his questions.
In addressing his upcoming challenges, Kenworthy told the Times-News he needs to understand more about the department and the goals behind having firefighters respond to emergency medical calls.
“I think it’s the right model to have firefighters involved in EMS,” he said.
But as Twin Falls’ population grows, Kenworthy may see a need to make the process more efficient, perhaps by filtering calls differently.
Twin Falls Fire Department began responding to medical calls shortly after Kenworthy’s predecessor, Tim Soule, took over as fire chief. At the time the new policy was implemented, firefighters went from going on four to 14 calls per day.
Kenworthy recognized the difficulties the fire department has had with leadership changes, but he has confidence in the battalion chiefs he’ll be serving with.
“I’m humbled and touched by this,” he said. “My goal is to exceed and hopefully go above and beyond your expectations.”