More than two weeks into the job, Needham Fire’s new chief is planning to tackle recruitment and response time issues head-on.
Jason Cahill took over as chief of the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department on Jan. 1. The department provides fire services for the Needham community, along with areas of Needham, Clark and Franklin Townships.
Cahill is a second-generation firefighter and has been involved in the fire service for 21 years. He is also a captain at Grissom Air Reserve Base Fire Department. Originally from Ohio, he followed in his father’s footsteps by joining a local fire department while still in high school, according to Needham Fire.
Once he graduated high school, Cahill enlisted in the United States Air Force and served on active duty from 2005 to 2009 as an Air Force firefighter, according to Needham Fire. After separating from active duty, he moved to Whiteland to be with his wife, then his fiancé, before moving to Greenwood.
Beginning around 2010, Cahill joined the Greenwood Fire Department, working out of Station 94 on the city’s east side for a couple of years. This was how he was first introduced to Needham Fire, he said.
“We would routinely go out to Needham and Clark Township to help those guys out quite a bit,” Cahill said. “I was just never in a position to be a part of that department. Given I had little kids… it was just a lot at the time.”
When Cahill heard the department was looking for a new chief last year, he decided to apply. He didn’t expect to be one ultimately chosen, he said.
“It’s an honor to be selected for such a position,” Cahill said.
He is the department’s first external hire for a fire chief. He will continue to work for the Grissom fire department, splitting time between there and his new part-time job as Needham’s fire chief, he said.
Cahill is now responsible for approximately 32 firefighters, mostly volunteers. The rest are paid part-time as part of a standby force that staffs the station from 6 am to 6 pm, he said.
After Cahill took the reins on Jan. 1, he conducted a complete review of the department, looking at staffing and their typical calls. One of his primary goals as chief is to cut down on the department’s response time, especially at night, he said.
“Given that we are partially volunteers and partially paid standby, one of the challenges we continue to have during the night is getting very quick response times,” Cahill said.
This challenge is not unique to only Needham, other fire departments have had it as well, he said. Cahill cited Trafalgar Fire’s recent move to having their department staffed 24/7, which will ultimately shorten response times in that area.
Like Trafalgar and other volunteer departments across the US, Needham Fire has also been struggling with recruiting and retaining firefighters. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, volunteer departments would have 30 people show up to fight a fire when called. In 2023, this is no longer the case, he said.
“My number one goal is to fix that and figure out how we can recruit and retain (firefighters) to ultimately provide better fire protection to the citizens of Needham and Clark Township,” Cahill said.
One way Cahill has tried to increase recruitment is by being more active on the department’s Facebook page and using it for recruitment. He also hopes to work with the Needham Fire Protection District Board and county officials to see what can be done to improve the department’s response times, he said.
Cahill says Needham Fire is in a very good position for its future. It has great equipment and great members, and his predecessors have laid a great foundation for him to use as he works to make the department even better, he said.
It’s just going to take time, Cahill said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I’m well positioned to improve the services out there in Needham.”
The department is continuing to look for volunteers, Cahill said. Those interested in joining should reach out via the department’s Facebook page, facebook.com/NeedhamVolFD, or via email at [email protected]