Editor’s note: Comments have been edited for clarity and space
After the departure of the previous chief and a six-month interval, Nick Falley was appointed chief of the Cosmopolis Fire Department in mid-January.
Now, the 25-year-old is leading the all-volunteer department as they look to forge a path into the future. A longtime firefighter in both volunteer and career roles, as well as a program manager for Grays Harbor County Emergency Management, Falley may be just what the department needs.
The Daily World sat down with him on Thursday to discuss the road forward.
How did you get into firefighting?
Moving to Ocean Shores when he was 15, Falley said he became a fire cadet during high school, working with Grays Harbor Fire District 7.
“I think it boils down to helping your neighbors, right?” Falley said. “My stepfather was a volunteer firefighter, he’s who got me really into it.”
Falley said he continued to volunteer at a number of departments through college, going career before coming to the sheriff’s office in the Emergency Management office. In spring of 2021, he began volunteering with the Cosmopolis Fire Department, nearest where he lives with his wife and dog.
“It was last spring when they sent out the water bill that they were looking for volunteers,” Falley said.
How did you end up as chief?
After the former Chief Mark Tarabochia stepped down due to family issues in July, the chief’s position remained open.
“It stayed vacant for six months,” Falley said. “I felt like it was unfair to our guys to not have solid leadership in the department.”
Falley said he was involved in handling a lot of administrative work for the department during that time before finally accepting the position in January. Tarabochia is also back with the department, serving as deputy chief.
“The biggest role is interfacing with the city. Bringing stuff back to the department, bringing stuff from the department to the city and the city council,” Falley said. “Overseeing the budget. Overseeing the training.”
Falley said he took the job because it needed doing for the good of the department, but wished he’d spent more time on the line.
“I don’t feel like I worked the ranks to the position,” Falley said. “I took it to move the department forward.”
How’s the job been so far?
“I can’t do it without the volunteers we have in the department. They make it easy to lead,” Falley said. “We’re making progress every day. There’s so much to be done around here there’s no standing still.”
There’s currently six volunteers at the department, Falley said, and he’s hoping to recruit more.
“The biggest role is keeping open communication,” Falley said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s the truth.”
For Falley, it’s the hands-on part of the job he enjoys the most: teaching new volunteers, and actually fighting fires.
“I love teaching. We have young firefighters who before they walked through the door had never touched anything in the fire service. I love seeing things click for them,” Falley said. “I don’t want any brass on my collar. I want to pull hose. That’s what I love.”
Falley said he’s also working closely with the Aberdeen and Hoquiam fire departments with the potential creation of a Regional Fire Authority, combining the three cities for staffing, funding and capability reasons.
“I support the RFA,” Falley said. “I’m helping to move the department in that direction.”
What’s the trickiest part of the job?
Not leadership or tactics, Falley said, but figuring out how the department interacts with the city and the other departments.
“I think the steepest learning curve is learning the municipality,” Falley said. “Learning what goes within the city government and how it operates, that’s the hardest thing.”
Have there been any surprises so far?
Falley said there weren’t any huge surprises — he was fulfilling many of the duties of the role before the appointment, and those around him have helped him to step into the new role.
“There was no surprise from the other chiefs when I took the role. I have a great support system from the other chiefs in the county,” Falley said. “I could not do without the support of my beautiful wife.”
What are some of the things you want to bring to the department?
“We want to get sleepers in at the station. Right now we’re traditional volunteers,” Falley said. “We want to get volunteers in here.”
With volunteers overnighting in the station, instead of coming in from their own residences, the response time goes down drastically, Falley said.
“I time it for myself. Middle of the night, a call goes out. From the time the call goes out to me moving the engine, it’s 10 minutes,” Falley said. “With someone sleeping here, they’re held to that two-minute standard. Eight minutes, that’s huge.”
In medical emergencies, or in terms of giving a fire time to grow, those minutes can be the deciding factor in what kind of outcome will occur.
“When it comes to a cardiac arrest or a house on fire, it’s critical,” Falley said. “Every minute counts.”
The department is currently working with the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to make sure the building is within acceptable health and safety regulations to have firefighters stay there overnight. Falley is also looking into the idea of a residency program.
“We’ve tossed around the idea,” Falley said. “That’s where you find typically college students. They live at the station and they’re expected to pull so many shifts. Their rent is basically response, pulling shifts.”
Does working as a fire chief affect your job in emergency management?
“Absolutely,” Falley said. “I’m more productive in my day job because of my experience in the fire service previously and that I still gain every day.”
What do you see as the biggest issue for the department right now?
The Aberdeen Fire Department is currently contracted to cover emergency calls in Cosmopolis after a walkout of firefighter volunteers several years ago. Falley said he’d like to see the city’s own fire department be able to take up more of that responsibility.
“The biggest issue is getting response back into the community,” Falley said. “Aberdeen covers the city of Cosmopolis, 100%. We’re trying to get Cosmopolis volunteers responding to Cosmopolis calls.”
Falley said he hopes getting more volunteers, as well as instituting programs like overnight watches at the fire station, will help the department take up more of the burden. The department received about 250 emergency calls last year, Falley said, the great majority of which are medical calls.
If you could snap your fingers and change anything, what would it be?
“More bodies through the door,” Falley said. “We’re trying to recruit as much as we can. If you’re interested, come to city hall and grab an application.”
Any parting wisdom for us?
“Sunday is Daylight Savings,” Falley said. “Change your smoke detector batteries.”
Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.