Fire chiefs working together for a smooth transition

By Tracy Demetropolis

ANTHEM – For nearly nine years, Daisy Mountain Fire and Medical (DMFM) Chief Mark Nichols has served the communities of New River, Anthem and Desert Hills. But as a Greek philosopher once said, “change is the only constant in life.” And Nichols said it’s time to move on and enjoy his retirement.

Photos by Tracy Demetropolis On January 10, incoming DMFM Chief Brian Tobin (left) and soon-to-be-retired Chief Mark Nichols, spoke to an audience at a Town Hall Meeting in Anthem. The two men have been working together to ensure a smooth transition.

“Thank you for the friendship and support you’ve given me,” Nichols said January 10. “It’s a partnership (between the department and the community), and it has been a pleasure.”

Nichols said an early goodbye to the community at the Representative Town Hall meeting in Anthem last Friday and welcomed incoming Chief Brian Tobin, who officially joined DMFM on January 6. Tobin has 37 years of firefighting experience under his belt. Nichols, who has been a firefighter for 48 years, said his last day on the job will be February 13.

“It should be an easy transition,” Nichols said. “When I heard he (Tobin) was going to retire from the City of Phoenix (COP), I asked him if he was interested in throwing his hat in the ring. I’ve known him a lot of years, and you guys are fortunate to have him take the helm.”

Tobin has been with the COP Fire Department since 2004, where he served as the Assistant Battalion Chief and then Fire Battalion Chief until he retired in June of last year. But Tobin knows the DMFM coverage area well. Not only does he live in North Phoenix, but he served as DMFM Interim Fire Chief from November 2010 to April 2011.

“I loved the short amount of time I worked with Daisy Mountain, and I was grateful for the opportunity to come back,” Tobin said. “I’m very honored to follow in Mark’s footsteps.”

Nichols said he and Tobin have been sharing thoughts and ideas about the direction DMFM is headed and discussing the goals they both want DMFM to achieve. The men have also been going over files and historical information about the department.

Nichols and Tobin said they are on the same page regarding issues like the high risk of cancer among firefighters. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in addition to the danger of putting out fires, firefighters are at increased risk for different types of cancer due to the smoke and hazardous chemicals they are exposed to in the line of duty.

“Firefighters get cancer at a rate that is triple the general public,” Tobin said, adding that there is new turnout gear and other equipment available to reduce cancer risk.

Tobin said the names of two young firefighters were recently added to the Arizona Firefighters Memorial at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix. These young men died of job-related cancer, he said.

“They died from this disease that’s killing us,” Tobin said, adding that the firefighting community is making some advancements in safety.

Another issue the two men agree on is the effort to improve radio-communication along I-17 in the DMFM service area. Nichols said the I-17 is the fourth deadliest freeway in the nation and the number one most deadly in Arizona. But poor radio communication was preventing firefighters from doing their best to save lives.

“The big glitch was communication,” Nichols said. This was due to the mountainous terrain and the lack of radio towers. But taxpayer bond money allowed the department to build two radio towers, which are located at Black Canyon City and Sunset Point, Nichols said, adding that it took two years to finish the project.

Because of the new towers and other changes, DMFM is now part of the Regional Automatic Aid System, which allows Valley firefighters that are closest to an emergency to respond, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries, according to the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority. In the past, DMFM had to first get permission to come to the aid of people in other jurisdictions.

“There were times where the communication along I-17 was so bad we had to literally send a firefighter running up a hill with a cell phone to try to get a signal,” Nichols said. “We’ve tested it, and the results are phenomenal.”

The much-improved radio communication along parts of I-17 is just one of Nichols’ many accomplishments over his 48-year career. Nichols began his fire-service career in 1972, after earning his fire-science degree from Glendale Community College. His first position was as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Payson. In 1978, he joined the Glendale Fire Department, where he served as a firefighter, paramedic, tox medic, fire engineer and hazardous-material technician. He was promoted to captain in 1993 and to battalion chief in 2001. He became EMS division chief in 2002.

While at the Glendale Fire Department, Nichols served as recruit training officer in 1994 and lead recruit training officer in 1995 and 1997. In July 2003, Nichols was hired by the City of Peoria to serve as the training chief. In April of 2011, Nichols was hired by DMFM to serve as fire chief.

While Nichols will be saying goodbye to DMFM next month and Tobin will be taking over his duties, the  long-time firefighters and good friends will likely stay in touch. Nichols said he plans to spend time with his family, which includes three grandchildren.

“I want to do something different,” Nichols said at the meeting. “Everyone has a shelf life, and I’m about to expire,” he joked.

Nichols’ other plans include building a cabin on land he and his wife of 43 years, Kerry, recently bought in Oak Creek Canyon. Nichols said he will be doing the building himself since he is skilled in carpentry. He also plans to do something else he loves – building custom-made wood furniture.

In next week’s issue, we will introduce you to Chief Brian Tobin and his many accomplishments before coming to DMFM.