The new Bennington Suburban Fire District has its first paid fire chief.
The board voted July 27 to approve a contract with Dan Mallory, an Omaha firefighter and fire chief for the Fort Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department. His first full-time day will be Oct. 12.
Mallory was one of three finalists of the 12 applicants the district received, district board president Jim Gottsch said.
“He knows a lot of our people, knows a lot of our volunteers personally. He has been very well received,” Gottsch said. “When we brought him to our board meeting on the 27th, he received a round of applause.”
Mallory, who has been a firefighter for the last 25 years, also had the experience Bennington was looking for. The district recently converted from a rural to a suburban fire district after approval from the Washington County Board of Supervisors and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners in June.
Bennington Fire and Rescue, which has 34 volunteer firefighters, covers 42 square miles of northwestern Douglas County and 6 miles of southern Washington County, including the village of Washington. Roughly 20,000 people live in the fire district.
In 2015, the department responded to 612 fire and rescue calls. In 2019, that number increased to 904. It is expected the department will reach more than 1,000 calls in 2020.
The conversion allows the district to increase property taxes to hire paid personnel, including a fire chief and paramedics.
Mallory served with the Elkhorn Fire Department for 12 years during its conversion from a rural to suburban district before it was taken over by the City of Omaha.
He began his career as a firefighter and worked his way up to assistant chief with Elkhorn before moving over to Omaha Fire. He will leave a position as a fire apparatus engineer, in which he has served the last several years.
“He led both paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters underneath the same roof (with Elkhorn),” Gottsch said. “That's invaluable experience for what we want to do. Even though we are going to hire some paid firefighters, our volunteers are the rock of our fire station. Those people have given so much for so long.”
Mallory has also served a total of about 17 years with the Fort Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department — the last five years as chief.
Mallory is excited for the opportunity with Bennington.
“To come in to an organization going from an all volunteer to a combination volunteer and career department, these opportunities don't come by too often,” he said.
Mallory said his experience with Elkhorn will help him in his new role with Bennington.
“Having gone through that process, it's pretty neat to come back and go through it again, but this time instead of starting as a firefighter, I get to build the department as we go,” he said. “That was what was the intriguing part of it, was to be able to come in and build an organization.”
However, Mallory was quick to point out that Bennington already has “a solid foundation.”
“They have a great group, They're doing things just right,” he said. “The only thing is their call volume is going through the roof. They're making quite a few calls and it's a lot to ask for volunteers to handle everything.”
The plan, Mallory said, is to supplement the volunteers with career staff to give those volunteers a break. How many paid personnel has not yet been determined. However, Gottsch said that determination will be Mallory's to make.
“He will get his feet on the ground and get involved with how things are currently run,” Gottsch said “I don't think he plans to change a lot of things with the volunteer portion so it's kind of a wait and see thing.”
Mallory said he will need to evaluate the call volume, response and gauging the number of calls in the future.
“I am a total data driven person,” Mallory said. “At this point in the game, I can't come in and say we're going to hire X number of people. I don't know that yet.”
Mallory said he is looking forward to the experience and helping Bennington Fire and Rescue in its transition.
“It's a humbling thing. It's pretty neat to walk into something like this and be selected,” Mallory said. “I feel honored to be a part of their organization and to be the one to help lead in the future here.”
While he'll continue to serve with Fort Calhoun as a volunteer, Mallory will step down as chief when his term ends in December.