The Selah Fire Department has undergone some major changes in 2021. But unless you have stopped by the station in the past few months, you may not be aware that there’s a new chief in town.
Jim Lange, the former deputy chief, has been managing day-to-day operations at SFD since January and will officially take the reins from retiring Chief Gary Hanna on April 1. Hanna, who joined the department as a volunteer in 1974 and became chief in 2013, said he is confident that the department is in good hands.
“Jim brings a lot of energy and new ideas, and his perspective is going to make a big difference in the growth of this department,” he said. “I’ve been here a long time, so having a new set of eyes on things has been really good.”
Lange joined the department in 2015 as the deputy chief and fire marshal. Until last year, he also served as the training officer, a position now held by Scott Willis.
The most recent hire, Mickey Gillie, took over as deputy chief and fire marshal on Jan. 1. The paramedic and firefighter spent the past seven years as an acting captain with the Sunnyside Fire Department, and Hanna likes what he brings to the operation.
“Mickey has a well-rounded background that’s going to benefit this community well,” the chief said. “During the interview process, he was the guy we thought had the skill set and the personality to fit in here. We are a small department and we work really closely together, so we needed to find someone with that same mindset.”
To help Lange and Gillie adjust, Hanna informed the staff in early February that they would be running the day-to-day operations. He let Lange move into his office, and he has been providing daily support. But after a 46-year career — 23 as a volunteer — Hanna has shifted his focus more toward special projects and easing the transition to new leadership.
“I’m a pretty open book; I share everything,” he said. “One of the things I’ve worked with Jim on the past few years is budgeting, and this year he took the lead role. I figure he has to like it if he’s going to inherit it.”
Hanna, 64, said he doesn’t plan to be a stranger around the department. He lives nearby and his wife, Janice, will continue as a volunteer firefighter. But he admits it won’t be easy to call it a career on March 31.
“I’ve made such good friends and memories over the years that it will be tough to walk out that door one last time,” he said. “But I think I will adjust OK.”
Hanna’s crew will also have to adjust to not having him around. Firefighter Ron Cline, a 20-year department veteran, said Hanna’s presence will be greatly missed — along with his biscuits and gravy, and white chili.
“It’s a real family atmosphere here, and Gary created that environment,” he said. “He just let us be us. We knew what our job was, and he always trusted us to get it done. He was such a pleasure to work with, and I’m going to miss seeing him every day.”
Cline and the rest of the crew — seven full-time employees, one part-time administrator and 52 paid-call volunteers — appreciate all Hanna has done to ensure a smooth transition. By preparing Lange to take over well in advance of his retirement, Hanna showed how much he cares about his fellow firefighters.
“He didn’t have to do that, but he was looking toward the future,” Cline said. “He wanted to make sure we had good leadership and that we were set up to be successful. That’s just the way Gary was — he always wanted to make sure we were prepared.”
Cline pointed to the number of former Selah firefighters who have gone on to become fire chiefs themselves, thanks in large part to Hanna’s leadership.
“We’ve seen five or six of our guys become chiefs in other places, and it all started here,” he said. “Gary always encouraged us to better ourselves, and he did whatever he could to help us further our careers, whether it was here or somewhere else. He was such a positive role model for so many guys and gals in this department over the years.”
As Hanna prepares for the next chapter in his life, he said he feels good about the state of the department, both in terms of personnel and community support. He pointed to the maintenance and operations levy passed by voters in 2019 that has allowed SFD to repair firetrucks and fix equipment, plus build some much-needed reserves.
“That was huge because we were starting to see red,” Hanna said. “The public has always been very supportive, and because of their help, our funding is fairly solid right now.”
Even with all of the department’s recent success, Hanna has never been one to pat himself on the back. He is quick to credit his crewmembers for the strides the SFD has taken since he became chief, and he is confident they will continue to excel in his absence.
“I don’t think of myself as the one who’s done it — it’s been a group effort,” he said. “I just think about the department as a whole, and if we’re doing the best we can. With the help of some really great people, I can say that we are.”