Fire Chief Remembers Early Days Of Department

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Gary Hatch does not admit to a love of dangerous professions, but he has earned a living in one and made a career of another.

Newlywed and tired of long hours working construction jobs, he lied about his age at 17 and became a roving mechanic and electrician in a Utah coal mine. Eventually, he became part of the cave-in equipment recovery team.

"It was dangerous work and I didn't like that, so I jumped at the opportunity to come down to Star Valley," Hatch said.

He went back into construction helping to build the Quail Valley subdivision and Houston Creek RV Park before opening his own excavation business, Cornerstone Mining and Materials.

Hatch's life changed when Jim Idoine, the newly assigned chief of the Diamond Star Fire District, called for volunteer firemen. Hatch's brother, Phil, signed him up for training.

"My nightmare when I was a kid was dying in a fire," Hatch said. "My second biggest was drowning. At the sight of blood I used to pass out. I gutted a fish once and blacked out when the insides came out.

"No way was I going to be a fireman."

Idoine wouldn't let the 22-year-old out of attending the first meeting.

When Hatch showed up for the meeting with eight others, the 1800 square foot station had four walls, no roof and no fire truck. Idoine told him he had to stay for the whole meeting.

"At the end of that meeting I was hooked," Hatch said. "I've always loved helping people."

The little station was operational after four months of training and opened Nov. 1, 1982 with a 1962 fire truck bought from a station in New York.

About three weeks after the station opened, Hatch's children were playing with a lighter in a closet and clothes caught fire. It was the station's first house fire.

The next year, the 100 percent volunteer-run station answered 13 fire calls.

"Each of us, as volunteers, gave money to the district each month so it could exist," he said.

After nine years as a volunteer, Hatch became the first full-time paid employee of the District as its fire chief.

In 2006, he expects the station will answer over 400 calls, 70 to 80 percent of them medical.

And those are calls Hatch can cover, because the squeamish boy has become a paramedic.

In a small town, the chances of knowing the person who needs medical attention are huge.

"The toughest thing, is having the responsibility on your shoulders when you get there and start working on somebody," Hatch said. "I think every paramedic has had someone that they were working on die. Then they question themselves."

When he was first a paramedic, Hatch said he had "such a strong belief in the life hereafter that it was very hard to take someone who is dead and bring them back."

Then someone told him that if God wanted that person on the other side, then Hatch would not be able to revive them.

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Gary Hatch "overhauling" the area at Whiteriver. Overhauling is done to make certain all the ashes are put out.

"That was a comfort to me," Hatch said. "To date, I have five patients that were dead that I was able to bring back and they are all living normal lives.

"I am firm in the belief that we just do what we can. I love being a medic. I love helping people."

In the small fire station, Hatch's fellow firefighter are like family.

During the Dude Fire, Hatch thought of his men.

"We were the first structural fire truck on the Dude Fire," he said. "When the six were killed we were on the same trail they were on. The difference was we ran North. They ran South.

"For about 45 minutes we thought we were going to die in the fire. It was a wall of flame.

"I never thought about my own kids. They always say your life will flash in front of your eyes. It did not flash in front of my eyes. I had led three other firefighters in there and their families ran through my mind because I had taken them up in there and let them die."

"Everything I have been afraid of I've gone after. I'm a scuba diver, a paramedic and I love to fly.

"Now I have a respect for fire, but I am not afraid of it."

Profile

Name: Gary Hatch

Occupation: Fire Chief

Employer: Diamond Star Fire District

Age: 46

Birthplace: Mesa

Family: Wife Julie; children: Angela, Breanne, Cameron and Laura; 10 grandchildren

Personal motto: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Inspiration: My family.

Greatest feat: First, becoming a paramedic, because I did it later in life. A close second, seeing where this department is now from where it began.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Spending time with my wife on vacation.

Three words that describe me best: Passionate toward my profession, hard-headed, helpful

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dream vacation spot: Hawaii

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