TWIN FALLS — Tim Soule likes being the man.
“I like that the buck stops here,” the Twin Falls fire chief said.
Sitting for an interview in front of a wall stacked with the fire helmets from every department Soule has worked for, the new chief reflected on his first four months as the top fire fighter in Twin Falls, saying he hasn’t felt overwhelmed by the demands of the job since he was sworn in Oct. 17.
“I think it’s been a very positive experience for me,” he said. “Professionally and personally.”
The Ohio native began his firefighting career in the suburbs of Cleveland before moving on to Kalispell, Mont., and then to western Nevada, where he worked as a deputy chief in his last job before being hired on in Twin Falls.
Soule has started his tenure as burning hot as any fire his crews might fight, completely changing the way firefighters respond to calls. The fire department still responds to fires, of course, but they’ve also begun responding to medical calls, meaning firefighters who once went out on an average of four calls per day are now going on 14 calls per day.
The following conversation with the relaxed, joke-cracking Soule took place Feb. 15. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How are things so far?
A: Things have been a whirlwind. There’s a lot of enthusiasm within the department to move ahead and do some things with regards to first response for EMS calls. That’s been a huge change for the department. It’s resulted in a dramatic increase in our run volume, additional training for our guys and a lot of interactions with other agencies. We’ve had two saves as a result of our running first response for EMS. We’ve saved two lives since Christmas Eve, directly related to that. Who knows about the other benefits we’ve had, but there have been two direct saves as a result of those types of changes.
Q: Can you tell me more about those two saves?
A: Along with Magic Valley Paramedics, we went to a cardiac arrest on New Year’s Eve. And we were able to work with — the ability for four or five people to resuscitate an individual is much better than two if the ambulance had arrived alone, or if the ambulance had arrived prior to our arrival. So we all got there about the same time on that particular call. And because of that we were able to do a very good resuscitation effort, and she was able to walk out of the hospital a few weeks ago.
And then the other call was a respiratory arrest, where the individual was having extreme difficulty breathing, and we were able to provide resuscitative efforts prior to the ambulance getting there. And by the time the ambulance arrived, she was much improved.
Q: So what’s new? What have you changed?
A: Primarily, we are being dispatched as a first responder to all EMS calls in the city and in the rural fire district, where we had not been before. So the citizens are seeing a trained medical provider now roughly within four to five minutes, where in the past it may have been significantly longer. So they’re getting medical care for an injury, an accident or an illness faster now than they were four months ago. Before, we were primarily sent upon the request of Magic Valley Paramedics. And now we’re being sent immediately. So a significant portion of the time, we actually arrive before the paramedics.
Q: How are your firefighters reacting to the change?
A: They are, they’re enthusiastic. I had a guy tell me he used to feel like he had value at work when he went on fires, which happened a couple times a month, and now he feels valuable every time he comes to work, because he’s responding and helping people every day.
Q: It must have been a pretty big change for them.
A: It was. They were running an average of four calls per shift, and now they’re running an average of 14 calls per shift. And it’s really a part of this heart-safe community, where because of earlier intervention as a result of where the fire stations are placed within the city and district, we can get there ordinarily within four to five minutes and begin interventions prior to the arrival of the ambulance. And when we’re able to do that, the data shows we can approach a 34 percent resuscitation rate versus a four percent resuscitation rate when we aren’t able to meet those time factors.
Q: Outside the job, how are you enjoying Twin Falls?
A: My wife was able to get up here, and we bought a house and moved in the beginning of December. The community has been tremendous. Just very warm, very welcoming, friendly community for both my wife and I. We’re looking forward to summer when we can get outside. I had ridden my motorcycle through (Twin Falls) a couple times coming through Stanley, one of my favorite places to go.
Q: What have you liked most about living here?
A: You know, what I’ve liked most is the guys. The guys and gals here at the department have been phenomenal. Just high-caliber, high-character, high amounts of training, very proficient, very good at what they do. And working with the city administration. So, the leadership philosophy of the city, and the caliber of the men and women here in the department, I couldn’t ask for more. I couldn’t be happier.
Q: This is your first time being the top dog. How has that transition been?
A: Honestly, I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of it. I like being the man. I like that the buck stops here, and there’s not too many other places to look at if you don’t like the way things are going, you just look at what you’re doing. So, I think it’s been a very positive experience for me, professionally and personally.
Q: When we talked back in August, you said you hated being behind a desk, you loved washing the truck and eating with the guys. Are you still able to do that?
A: I am. Certainly not as much as I’d like, but prior to my wife getting up here, I had six weeks where I was pretty much either sleeping, or I was here. I ate dinner every night with the guys and trained with the guys. When we do have fires, I respond to fires, and pack up, and I think that’s been a little bit of a culture shock for the guys, but they’re getting used to it, seeing the chief with an air pack on.
Q: Any big upcoming plans? Anything else you want to change?
A: The big push over the next two years is probably going to be stations and people. We have basically the same staffing we had 50 years ago, in the same stations that we had 50 years ago. So as the capital improvements to city hall and the police department wrap up, we’re going to really start making a push for doing the same for the fire department.
And outside of that, I’ll just be messing around with the guys, training and going on calls.