Whitefish’s New Fire Chief Brings Two Decades of Experience to the Job
The Whitefish Fire Department’s new chief comes from a long line of firefighters and brings two decades of experience to the top job.
After an extensive interview process, Cole Hadley was selected to serve as chief, replacing Joe Page following his retirement. Hadley started his new job last week.
Hadley has been with the Whitefish Fire Department since 2009 and has always been drawn to leadership roles. He has served as a captain for the last six years and as the union president for the last seven. He said his experience in those positions helped make his transition to chief a smooth one.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a lot of the county-wide meetings in the past, so I already have some relationships built with county representatives and other fire chiefs,” Hadley said.
As the union president, he was part of the strategic planning process and the master plan development for Whitefish. He said he is looking forward to being able to work with the union and the city to help develop plans for the future.
He added that positive changes are happening for the department, which protects the 86-square-mile Whitefish Fire Service Area. The department recently added one firefighter per shift. Now, during a fully staffed day, six firefighters/paramedics, the fire marshall, an administrative assistant and Fire Chief Hadley are on duty.
“We’re talking about how to incorporate another station and how to add at least three more firefighters, which would be one more firefighter per shift,” Hadley said. “We’re moving in the right direction but, unfortunately, it’s all very expensive and a slow, long process to get there.”
Stepping into leadership roles has always been a driver for Hadley because, in part, it allows him to help people in ways other than as a firefighter/paramedic. He looks forward to finding ways to take care of the crews, his co-workers and the community in his position as chief.
“We have an amazing group of people who work here. I feel spoiled to be able to be their chief because they’re going to make it so easy on me because they already do such a great job,” he said. “It’s just going to be supporting them how I can… and making sure the city understands what we’re dealing with and what we need, moving forward that way.”
ALONG WITH his promotion to chief, Hadley celebrated 20 years in fire service last week. He was nearing his 18th birthday when he joined the Smith Valley Volunteer Fire Department. His choice did not come as a surprise to his family, many of whom are firefighters.
His grandfather retired from the Marion Fire Department as chief in the early 1990s, and one of Hadley’s uncles, as well as a cousin, retired from the Kalispell Fire Department.
“I grew up just down the road from the Smith Valley Fire Station,” he said. “I knew pretty quickly that was something I wanted to do.”
Hadley earned a degree in paramedicine at Flathead Valley Community College and worked for the Evergreen Fire Department before starting with the Whitefish Department 14 years ago.
“It’s great to be able to be born and raised in the valley and then be able to continue to move up through this department to the chief position,” Hadley said. “This is my home. This is the community that I've worked in the longest, here in Whitefish, so I have some really strong ties to this community and to the valley as a whole.”
His family ties in the Flathead run deep and the Hadley legacy continues as he and his wife Ashley are raising their son, Owen, and daughter, Olivia, in the valley. His family has been a source of support and strength.
He said this feeling of closeness to the community is what drove him to be involved with the union and negotiations. He called his move to chief a “natural next step” and said he is honored and excited for his new position.
“I've gotten an outpouring of support since I got this position,” Hadley said. “It’s just been great.”
He said all the firefighters were pushing for him to get the job. They supported him while he applied for the position and have been helping out since he was hired.
The desire to help one’s co-workers is not a feeling reserved solely for the chief. A few firefighters, along with the maintenance director at the fire department, helped prepare the chief’s new office.
“They took everything out of here, they cleaned it, they shampooed carpets, they patched holes, they painted it,” Hadley said, gesturing around the room. “They made it so when I came in on my first day, all I had to do was move my stuff in and kind of settle. On day two, I'm already working, not just trying to get my feet under me.”
Hadley said he is looking forward to building on the reputation Whitefish’s firefighters have established in the community.
“I am truly honored and excited to take on my new role as the fire chief of the city of Whitefish,” he added. “I would like to express my deep gratitude to the city and the firefighters for entrusting me with this responsibility.”