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Fire chief to retire after serving Pocatello nearly 28 years

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POCATELLO — Having served the city of Pocatello for nearly three decades, fire chief David Gates has announced his retirement effective Dec. 31.

Prior to his more than 27 years of service with the Pocatello Fire Department, Gates spent 9-1/2 years in the United States Navy, primarily as a submariner.

“I feel like I’ve done my stint,” he told EastIdahoNews.com. “I really had a great career. I loved the department and I loved working in service of the community.”

Pocatello and southeast Idaho is Gates’ adopted community.

Born in Concord, California, about an hour east of San Francisco, Gates found his way to Idaho as a sailor, working at the Idaho National Laboratory. That was where he finished his military career. But by the time he was ready to remove the Navy uniform, he had already exchanged it for that of the Pocatello Fire Department.

That exchange was delayed by red tape, he said, and was nearly nixed altogether.

Now, with retirement on the horizon, Gates jokes that he will be able to do whatever fits his fancy on a given day.

“A little later mornings, a little less stress,” he said laughing.

One thing that is not in his plans is leaving Pocatello. And while hunting and skiing no longer fit his interests like they once did, he is certain he has enough lasting interests to fill the time.

“I’m not the type of person that allows the moss to grow on me. … I’m not going to be bored,” he said. “My wife and I like to travel so I think we’ll be doing some of that. We like tending our house, so I’m sure there will be some house projects in store. I play handball and I’d like to play more of it.”

Gates received approval of Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad to officially end his career on New Year’s Eve. As he said, it is a “fitting” and “symbolic” gesture.

“Dave has been a really good Chief for the Pocatello Fire Department,” Blad said in a statement. “It’s been a pleasure to work with him, and I truly appreciate everything he’s done while at the City.”

There are many things to be proud of when looking back on his career, Gates said. But none bring him more pride than ushering in a new era of leadership.

While serving as chief, Gates moved the department away from what he called a military-style authoritarianism, introducing a new system with far less micromanagement — a leadership by delegation.

“To me, being a leader is about championing your employees, and championing the things they want to do,” he said.

Standing outside of station 1 on Whitman Street, as an engine pulled out of the garage and down the street, the chief offered an example of his leadership. When time came for a new engine to be purchased, Gates gave his department a spending limit and told the men under his command to outfit the engine and they saw fit.

“You’re going to be the ones getting out of the damn things and putting out the fire,” he said.

Gates spoke with Blad, who will be tasked with selecting the next chief. Gates offered insight and made a recommendation, he told EastIdahoNews.com, but that decision is ultimately up to the mayor.

Pocatello Fire Chief David Gates
Pocatello Fire Chief David Gates. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

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