Only four years ago, David Staub joined the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department as its new chief, uprooting his life in the Casa Grande desert for the cool pines.
He had dreamed of running his own department, something his father, a fire chief, had inspired at an early age.
This week, Staub was officially named Payson’s new chief, taking over tentatively on July 1 for Marty deMasi, who retired in June.
Ironically, Staub’s father got his start as a Payson fire volunteer.
deMasi oversaw the PFD for years, rising in the ranks over a 35-year career with the town.
On Thursday, Staub, 44, said he too also plans to stay with Payson for many years.
“If Payson will have it, I will stay until I am 65,” he said. “I do not intend to move on.”
deMasi called Staub a “top shelf” choice. “I fully expect him to be successful leading a great team of firefighters and continuing the excellent service of the Payson Fire Department,” he said.
Staub said that is his goal. “Payson is an excellent department and I can’t wait to build on it.”
Staub said his primary motivation for applying for the job was his family. His two children attend Payson High School and they all wanted to be closer to town. He plans to buy a home in town by the end of the summer.
Staub joins a department that has not had a chief for nearly a year. Even though the town did not hire an interim chief, the department held together. Police Chief Don Engler, who loosely oversaw operations, repeatedly said he was proud of the professional way the battalion chiefs and staff ran the department without a chief.
One of those battalion chiefs Thursday said the choice of Staub had excited many of the town’s firefighters. “Our members have a great amount of respect for Chief Staub,” he said. “We look forward to working with him as we work to resolve some of the urgent challenges we face as a department and as part of the Arizona fire service.”
Challenges include uncertainty about how the Affordable Care Act will affect delivery of medical services, the budget and fire programs. And town officials haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with fire officials.
The town did not apply for and therefore will not receive a renewal of the SAFER grant that provided $800,000 to hire six reserve firefighters on full time to staff the town’s third fire station. Town Manager Debra Galbraith said the town set money aside to replace the grant, but budget concerns last year prompted the town to eliminate its fire marshal position to save $60,000.
The town council is also grappling with adopting the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) fire building codes, which affect new construction and Firewise, which promotes clear brush and trees from a defensible space around properties.
Staub won’t say where he stands on these issues because he does not know what the council wants.
Meanwhile, long-standing talks to coordinate the region’s eight fire departments through a merger or joint powers agreement have largely stalled. Staub worked for two years with other fire chiefs, including retiring Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch, to develop the JPA proposal. Several of the small, rural fire boards have already rejected the idea. However, fire officials like Staub and Hellsgate’s Chief David Bathke still hope it will one day happen.
Staub said it was always a long shot that five to eight fire boards could come to an agreement on a JPA.
On his time at P-S Fire, Staub said one of his proudest accomplishments is fostering relationships with community groups and employees.
That includes efforts to continue the brush pickup program, which started up again this week thanks to the fire department leasing the fuels reduction committee equipment for $1 and the committee collecting donations from the community.
“If I look at my career overall, I would say that I am proud of the work that those who worked alongside of me were able to accomplish by working together,” he said. “I like working with people and helping people, as quaint as that may sound, it is why I chose this career and sought promotions inside it.”
Staub, a former Casa Grande battalion chief, took over as P-S fire chief in August of 2010 when Bob Lashua retired after 27 years.
A second-generation firefighter, Staub watched his dad work his way up the ranks. Staub’s father started his career as a volunteer firefighter with the Payson Fire Department. His father later moved on to Rural Metro Fire Department in Scottsdale and then Ganado, Ariz., as fire chief.
Staub started his own career as a volunteer firefighter in Ganado at age 18. He later volunteered with the Goodyear Fire Department where he was hired on full time in October 1994. From Goodyear, Staub worked in ambulance management and then as a fire captain for six years in Casa Grande before becoming a battalion chief for three years there, rounding out 26 years in fire and emergency medical experience.
Through the years, Staub visited the Rim Country frequently, hunting, fishing, camping and spending his anniversary in the area.
In 2010, Staub told the Roundup, “My wife always wanted to live up here — I always wanted to be a fire chief.”
Staub has taught fire science classes at both Central Arizona and Gila Community colleges and is the Boy Scouts of America Zane Grey District chair, overseeing all of the area’s Boy Scout troops.
On Friday, the P-S Fire board is holding a special board meeting at 6 p.m. to go over letting Staub out of his contract and finding a replacement. The community is welcome to attend the meeting, held at the Pine fire station.