The 101-year old Tooele City Fire Department has a new chief.
Chris Shubert was recently promoted to fire chief, but he still manages to work a full-time job, maintain family time, and squeeze in a little bit of time for himself.
A Tooele City local, Shubert has spent 18 years working for the all-volunteer fire department.
Shubert said he is passionate about his work but it wasn’t an easy process getting to his current position.
In Tooele City, the chain of succession for a new fire chief begins with the fire chief, followed by the first assistant chief and second assistant chief. Each officer serves in the position for two years before advancing.
“It was a long process,” he said. “I started out as a firefighter and worked hard. I have filled all of the different positions in the department — truck equipment guy, air management, life safety, lieutenant, and then depending on whether or not you have it in you, the guys will nominate you to be their next chief.”
Firefighting runs in Shubert’s family. Both his father and grandfather served in the Tooele City Fire Department.
In his free time, Shubert is building a house for his family. He also has three sons and said they are involved in every seasonal sport possible. When he has extra time, Shubert enjoys camping and riding his side-by-side.
The fire department has high ratings, according to Shubert, and may respond to as many as 40 calls per week. They also train often to keep their skills fresh.
In 2019 the department responded to 387 calls, he said.
“Out of those calls, 104 were canceled while we were on route,” Shubert said.
“There could be anywhere from as little as one to two to as many as 30 to 40 calls depending on the week,” he said. “If we have an extra training on Saturday, that adds to it. Our main trainings are the first and third Wednesdays of the month. We do some of our bigger, more detailed trainings on Wednesday nights and do the hands on training on Saturday when we can use all day.”
The largest fire Shubert has been involved in fighting was the July 2016 fire in the field south of Van Dyke Way that destroyed 11 homes and damaged an additional 17 homes.
The Fourth of July holiday is the annual event that keeps Shubert and other firefighters awake at night.
“It’s so dry,” he said. “We try and manage it along with the city with restrictions if needed, but there are kids out there playing with matches and fireworks and everything is so dry and combustible.”
The fire department’s calls consist of more than just fires, according to the chief.
“We have rescued cats in trees and once there was a ferret stuck under a sink in a vanity. It was a ferret rescue,” Shubert said with a laugh. “There has also been people stuck in swings at the city parks, so we will have to go and remove them out of the swings.”
The fire department also help out with vehicle extrications.
The new fire chief wants the community to know that the volunteer fire department is just as good as a full-time, paid department.
“A lot of times after a call, people like to comment on Facebook and say ‘It’s time to have a full-time department,’” Shubert said. “Well, what they don’t understand is we are a full-time department still. We are on call 24/7. We never miss a call and we respond just as a full-time department would.”
The fire department currently has 50 volunteers and applications are always accepted at the two stations in town or on the website, tooelefire.org.
However, the current wait to be selected to become a volunteer is one to two years, according to Shubert.
Each volunteer firefighter with the Tooele City Fire Department completes the same training as a full-time paid firefighter. That includes four months of two nights a week for four and one-half hours each night and eight hours every Saturday, according to Shubert.
“We haven’t had trouble recruiting volunteers but we don’t have as many applications on file as we used to,” he said. “It used to take guys as many as 12 years to get on with the department. Now the wait time is around one to two years. We still have a full department. We aren’t running short by any means.”