The Powell Volunteer Fire Department will start 2019 with new leaders. Cory Baker, a volunteer with nearly a decade of service to the department, was recently chosen as the new chief and Willie Onstine, with the department since 2012, is the new assistant chief.
Baker and Onstine will take their new positions at the end of the month. The 32-member department votes on the positions every four years.
Scott Heny, vice president of the Park County Fire Protection District No. 1, said he’s looking forward to working with the new officers.
“They’re all a great bunch of guys. They get on it,” Heny said. “They’re very, very important to the community.”
Baker decided to join the department after a fire in his own home. He has served as assistant chief for the past two years, has been a 1st and 2nd lieutenant and looks forward to leading the department.
“It’s the best way I know how to serve the community,” Baker said.
As for his plans, “my goal is the same goal as the previous chief and every chief that has come before me: to be as prepared as we can possibly be and have every firefighter return home safe,” Baker said.
He’s replacing outgoing Powell Fire Chief Damian Dicks, who led the department for the past four years.
As for new assistant chief Onstine, he grew up watching his father, Freddie, volunteer as a firefighter and always wanted to follow in his footsteps. He applied to become a volunteer when he was 23 years old.
“I’ve loved it ever since. I’m very proud and happy to be on the force,” said Onstine, who previously served as captain.
Members of the volunteer force are paid a nominal fee for each call in which they respond. The department had a responder budget of $36,000 for 2018. This year, the payment per call will average between $8 and $9. Firefighters on the force also receive state retirement benefits after 10 years of service.
“Money is not the reason we do it,” said Dicks. “We do it to give back to the community.”
Dicks was quick to point out the generosity of Powell employers, allowing firefighters to race to emergency calls at a moment’s notice. “This is a great community with a lot of employers who support the department,” he said.
Dicks, who works as the computer services coordinator for Northwest College, said leadership roles take a lot of time answering calls, staying up to date on new technology and safety training. It also takes an emotional toll.
“This year was a trying year. We’ve never had this many structure fires,” Dicks said.
Four Powell area houses burned in January and February. That included a Jan. 6 fire west of town that claimed the life of a 67-year-old man and another one in town that resulted in the death of two pet dogs, despite firefighters’ efforts to resuscitate the animals. The department also responded to two fatal motor vehicle accidents within a week in late September and early October.
“Fatalities always weigh heavily on a person,” Dicks said.
The department responds to more than 200 calls per year, including 222 in 2017.