Passing the torch

New fire chief Brad Mohn (right), a 20-year veteran with the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department, took over the reigns earlier this month from former chief Ron Ehli (left) who is retiring after 23 years with the department. WILL MOSS – Ravalli Republic

After 23 years with the Hamilton Fire Department – six of those as chief – Ron Ehli has decided to retire. Don’t expect to see him with his feet propped up on the sofa, though – he’s going into politics.

And that means there is a new fire chief in town – Hamilton, meet Brad Mohn, though you might already have met since he too, has been with the fire department for two decades.

Mohn, who receives a small stipend for his work, became chief of the Hamilton department Jan. 7 and inherits 28 volunteer firefighters and a well-forged relationship with neighboring rural fire districts.

“It was a great ride,” Ehli said of his time with the department. “But it was time for some new blood and for me to look at some other things.”

Ehli worked downtown with his wife and every day would hear the fire whistle blow and see the engines race off.

“Something about it clicked with me,” he said. “I told my wife, Some day I am going to drive a fire truck.”

Not long after, firefighters came into the office looking to sign on new recruits. Soon Ehli was on the force.

Ehli, who owns Bitterroot Laundry and Cleaners, has filed to run for the Montana House representing Hamilton as a Republican. Working with two-dozen Type-A personality fire fighters, he said, has readied him for state government.

His best accomplishments with the department, he said, included managing the volunteer force, keeping a high level of training and readiness, and working to coordinate services with the city’s adjacent rural fire districts.

“Our contract with the rural fire districts was my big success story,” he said. “We were able to bring everyone together and we got a good contract, and that is not an easy task.”

Such accomplishments demand working with a broad spectrum of people and organizations, he said, as well as leadership skills.

“Learning how to work with people,” he said, “is really important.”

Those are skills that Mohn hopes to bring to the table as well.

“I would like to continue what Ron has done,” he said. “I think the fire department is headed in the right direction, and what I want to do is to try to improve the service we provide to the community and be as professional as we can be.”

Mohn, who works for Industrial Lumber Sales, said he wants to keep training levels high, equipment new and relationships with neighboring departments and the state in good standing. Meanwhile, he’ll face the challenge of meeting continual and difficult upgrade requirements while working with a small department and a small budget.

“It is always a challenge to keep up to date with the changes in technology,” he said.

Ehli succeeded, Mohn said, because he was able to get along with everyone from volunteers to the city council and kept those relations with the fire department in mind. That’s something Mohn wants to continue.

“The biggest challenge any volunteer chief has is keeping 28 Type-A personalities getting along with each other and maintaining harmony among the department,” he said. “Over a period of time what you do is sit down with the guys and remind them why they joined and what they are here to do, which is protect public life and property. You would not become a volunteer fireman if that was not high on your goal list.”

Ehli said despite his new future he’s already nostalgic for the past.

“When you are with people for 23 years they become a family,” he said. “The hardest thing for me is to walk away.”

Reporter Jeff Schmerker can be reached at 363-3300 or jeff.schmerker@ravallirepublic.com.

by JEFF SCHMERKER – Ravalli Republic

http://ravallirepublic.com/articles/2010/01/20/news/news57.txt

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