This past September, Polk City swore in the city’s first full-time fire chief. Selected from a pool of 30 applicants over a several-month hiring process, Jim Mitchell comes to the city with over three decades of experience serving fire departments across the state of Iowa.
“The process was excellent between the involvement of [former] Chief Gubbins and the fire department,” Polk City Mayor Jason Morse said. “It was exciting to be in this seat at this time. I think in the long run this will be a really big win for the city.”
The process began late last fall to early winter when the previous chief, Dan Gubbins, felt the time was coming to consider a full-time fire chief due to the demand of the position. This demand had grown not only because of the increase in call volume, but also because of the change in requirements for training and safety for firefighters across the nation over the past decade.
“I applaud Chief Gubbins that he knew it was time to make the transition and he was willing to give his time to do that process,” Mayor Morse said. “Dan stepped in when I stepped down. He took the reins and continued to build on the department and make it better, and I know Jim will take it to the next level.”
Once approved by the budget process, a job description was created and posted in early 2018, followed by careful consideration of numerous résumés and multiple interviews throughout the year.
“This is a new position because it’s a full-time chief and this is going to be taking the fire department to the next step. It was a long process that was really well thought out, planned and executed. I think that speaks volumes of how we got Jim,” Mayor Morse said.
Mitchell originally began his career as a volunteer firefighter in Knoxville, back in the early 1980s. Since that time, he has served in multiple positions across the state of Iowa, including becoming a firefighter paramedic with the city of Des Moines, holding multiple ranks in the city of Urbandale, and later becoming fire chief back in his hometown of Knoxville.
“I was actually shocked to find out we got money to do what I love to do,” Polk City Fire Chief Jim Mitchell said.
However, when Mitchell was offered the opportunity to become the first full-time fire chief in Polk City, it was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
“I felt blessed to be offered the position of the first full-time fire chief of Polk City,” Mitchell said. “When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door. And, I really view becoming the Polk City Fire Chief as a great opportunity.”
“I heard from a number of peers from back in my day as fire chief and they spoke very highly of Jim — what a top-notch candidate he is and how lucky we would be to have him,” Morse added.
Having only started the position recently, Mitchell plans to spend much of his first year learning the system and what Polk City currently has in place.
“I want to get out to the citizens and find out what their expectations are. That’s another exciting thing for me…getting out and meeting the people, finding out what their analysis of the fire department is and whether we are meeting their needs,” Mitchell said.
The week of Oct. 7-13 provided the perfect opportunity for Mitchell to reach out and get to know the members of his community. Fire Prevention Week kicked off at the fire station on Saturday morning with a Pancake Breakfast. Then, on Monday, Mitchell noted that members of the fire department visited local elementary schools in order to discuss the process of developing an escape plan in the event of a smoke detector going off. The department gave these students homework to draw out their escape plan, along with a safe place in their yard to meet up with the other members of their family. Then, on Tuesday night, students across the town had the opportunity to put their plans into action as part of a citywide fire drill, as Polk City firefighters roamed the streets to help with any challenges they may have encountered.
“It’s something they have done for years here. Fire Prevention Week is an exciting week for us. It’s an opportunity for us to get out and talk to school kids about fire prevention, and what to do and not to do in a fire,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also noted that along with getting to know his new community, one of the challenges he could face this upcoming year and as the community continues to grow is staffing.
“I think some of the challenges ares our staffing and the volunteer concept, not just in Polk City but nationwide,” Mitchell said.
Although still commuting from Knoxville, Mitchell is eager to relocate to Polk City and start enjoying the benefits that being part of this community has to offer.
“Polk City is still very community-oriented, which I’m attracted to. I like being a community fire chief and being involved in the community,” Mitchell said. “I don’t have to tell you how beautiful Polk City is. The change of the trees and all four seasons are highlighted here in this town. It’s a gorgeous city.”
Mitchell was officially sworn in as fire chief on Sept. 24, and former Polk City Fire Chief Gubbins was appointed the position of the new assistant fire chief.