Ryan O'Hearn appointed Pocatello fire chief

Idaho State Journal
Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO — The City Council promoted the city’s assistant fire chief, Ryan O’Hearn, to replace David Gates as fire chief on Thursday night.

Gates retired at the end of 2021, and O’Hearn and the city’s other assistant chief, Nick Christensen, had been splitting the chief’s duties since the start of this year.

O’Hearn, 50, started his career as a firefighter with the Pocatello Fire Department in 2002. Since then, he has been steadily rising in rank, becoming a captain in 2014 and assistant chief in 2020.

“It’s very rewarding,” O’Hearn said of serving on the fire department. “It gives us at all levels an opportunity to serve the community, which I think is what draws us to this field of work. No two days seem to ever be the same.”

O’Hearn was born and raised in Pocatello and graduated from Highland High School. He went on to attend Idaho State University, where he earned a bachelors of arts and a certificate in paramedic science.

“I was really interested in the medical field at the time and the fire department runs the paramedic service,” O’Hearn said. “I really enjoyed the fire component as well as the EMS component and just knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.

He later returned to ISU and earned a master’s in public administration in 2010.

Though becoming a fire chief wasn’t a certainty, O’Hearn said he started focusing on that goal about 15 years ago when he started working on his masters.

“It was something I was interested in and wanted to prepare for,” O’Hearn said.

In January, the department implemented a new schedule that he believes has been working extremely well. Firefighters work back-to-back 24-hour shifts and then have 96 hours off. He believes the schedule has reduced employee fatigue.

“It provides for more consistent time off for recovery with less coming and going,” O’Hearn said. “Individuals seem to be able to get more quality rest.”

O’Hearn believes he’s taking over a department that’s moving in a positive direction.

“I am very excited about our group of people. We have an excellent group,” O’Hearn said. “I think morale is good. I think through (union contract) negotiations this year they came out with an agreement the local and the city were both satisfied with and I think we’ll continue on that momentum with the schedule change and the other things we’re doing.”

Looking ahead, O’Hearn one of the department’s focuses will be on public outreach, which has been scaled back amid the pandemic. For example fire safety presentations to local school students have been done lately via Zoom. O’Hearn is eager to resume doing those in person.

“We look forward to being able to engage face to face more with the community,” O’Hearn said. “Prevention is a key component. If we can prevent an emergency, that’s better than mitigating an emergency.”

The department employs 91 full-time employees and a part-time worker.

Mayor Brian Blad credits O’Hearn with working closely on the schedule change with the fire union. Blad said the schedule the department has chosen has been proven throughout the country.

Blad said the department’s call volume is an issue. He said the department responded to more than 8,000 calls last season, which is too many for the size of the staff.

“Ryan is just an incredible person. He is a Pocatello native who worked his way up through the ranks. He can relate with the fire department and I think the fire department is moving in a good direction,” Blad said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how he leads and directs the fire department and how he works with the rest of the city staff.”

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