Months after budget cuts forced Hellsgate Fire Department to eliminate its No. 2 command position, a federal grant is bringing it back.
After a nationwide search, the Star Valley-based department hired David Bathke, of Green Lake, Wis., as its new battalion chief, said Chief Gary Hatch.
Money from the Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant is funding Bathke’s position. In Payson, the grant is buying the fire department six new firefighters.
Payson and Star Valley are the only departments in Arizona that received the federal grant, which helps struggling departments maintain and rehire firefighters.
Bathke was selected from a pool of applicants that took part in a two-day testing process.
Bathke has more than 30 years in fire service and recently retired from the Wauwatosa, Wis. Fire Department after 20 years of service. After retirement, Bathke worked briefly as the Ripon Area Fire District chief.
“He brings a great new ability to the Hellsgate Fire Department and we are all looking forward to his energy and enthusiasm,” Hatch said.
Hellsgate covers a dozen Rim Country communities in 38 square miles.
Since the department cut the battalion chief position in 2010, Hatch and shift captains have juggled to provide around-the-clock command coverage. For Hatch, that has meant cutting out nearly all holidays and vacations.
Besides rotating command with Hatch, Bathke will serve as the department’s fire marshal and assist with training when he starts Dec. 3.
The grant also lets Hellsgate retain its three engineers.
Hatch was going to cut these positions after a 37 percent decrease in assessed home values in two years and the loss of the contract with the Town of Payson for services severely crippled the department’s budget.
Staffing levels are back to where they were in 2008-2010.
“We are all so happy that the National Peer Review Panel of firefighters recognized that the Rim area of Arizona was so hard hit with the economic downturn,” Hatch said. “These two grants will help provide even better services than before and reduce some of the workload placed on those serving the area for many years.”