Selkirk Fire Chief Ron Stocking retires

Looking back on more than five years of fires — both structural and political

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Ron Stocking is growing a beard. The outgoing Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS chief, who officially retired Oct. 11, said his days are over in the fire service — a career that began on Dec. 31, 1981 in Orange County, Calif. — and so are his days of worrying about whether his facial hair will impede the proper sealing of an air mask.

“I’m growing it right now,” he told the Sandpoint Reader.

Ron Stocking stands next to the grill of the historic 1946 fire engine once used by the Sandpoint Fire Department. The engine still runs and is used often in parades. Photo by Ben Olson.

In addition to retiring his razor, Stocking also plans to spend the next six months building a house — “our final home,” he said, underscoring that he and his wife intend to remain in Sandpoint, which the family adopted as its hometown in 2014.

“I’ve been vacationing up here with my family and owned property up here since ’03,” Stocking said. “When the opportunity for fire chief opened up — and it was a nationwide search for fire chief — I applied and I believe it was with 44 other people and they selected me for the position, which I felt very fortunate that they gave me the opportunity.”

Looking back on 38 years in the fire service, Stocking said his five and a half years as chief in Bonner County have been among the most exciting — in part because of the natural environment and the ever-smoldering politics.

“I went from basically having no seasons [in Southern California] to having seasons, and having to deal with the interesting aspects of weather-related incidents here where, you know, it snows a foot and we have a structure fire; when our hoses freeze to the pavement. It actually brought a renewed excitement for the job,” he said, adding, “I thought I’d seen everything, but the politics in Bonner County are unlike the politics I’ve seen anywhere else. I don’t think I ever got used to it. It made the job interesting.” 

Unique among many communities, fire and emergency medical services have long been a hot-button issue in Bonner County, centered on whether EMS should be rolled into local fire services or operated independently as Bonner County EMS. Stocking in his former position as head of Selkirk Fire, was a strong supporter of bringing EMS under the wing of area fire departments — an organizational structure that he said is mirrored by close to 70 percent of EMS providers across the United States.

“Why Bonner County needs to be different … is beyond me,” he said. “Why can’t we get more bang for our buck by having dual-trained people [in both EMS and fire] instead of a single group of people doing one thing, and another group of people doing another thing?”

Stocking said he’s hopeful that the incoming interim Chief Dale Hopkins, who previously served as assistant chief, can join other local chiefs in working with the county on its EMS system, and added that collaboration across fire departments was among the biggest accomplishments during his tenure.

“I was a strong advocate for improving the services in this county and we did that by joining together the fire departments. It’s a better system when you have more people able to deliver services,” he said. “It’s just economy of scale. It’s eliminating duplication of services.”

Among the other big accomplishments, he recounted lowering the insurance service rating for Sandpoint and surrounds, enabling some property to reduce the amount they have to pay for fire insurance. 

“That’s one of the proudest things,” he said.

Under his watch, Stocking said fire services were also improved with the addition of a fire station in Careywood staffed 24/7 by firefighters trained in advanced EMT, as well as a successful levy in the West Side District that will enable another 24/7-staffed station at Wrenco, which is due to open after Jan. 1, 2020.

Asked about the most difficult or dramatic incident he faced while leading Selkirk Fire, Stocking didn’t hesitate to point to the fire on First Avenue in February, which resulted in the loss of several businesses and buildings

“I’ve had an opportunity to be exposed to a lot of structure fires in my career, but when I pulled up to that fire I thought if there’s a fire that I could lose a firefighter in, this is that fire,” he said. Yet, his crews and those who came from further afield to help beat back the blaze, which occurred amid freezing temperatures, did so with no injuries — a testament to their training and abilities.

Looking ahead, Stocking stressed that Selkirk Fire is in good hands with Hopkins in the lead, if only on an interim basis. He sees multiple opportunities to improve fire and EMS service in the county, provided they’re approached in a spirit of collaboration.

“I hope the response partners will embrace the regional approach to eliminating duplication of services,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities left in the county and if people could put politics aside and their egos, I think the sky’s the limit for what could be accomplished in Bonner County.”

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