Spokane County Fire District 4 has a new chief, but he is a familiar face to those living in the sprawling district north of the Spokane city limits.
Assistant Chief Bill Neckels has taken over the position of fire chief while the former chief, Randy Johnson, is staying in the district to take on an executive officer role.
Johnson will handle special projects that will include grant writing and capital projects, Neckels said.
“Randy’s role now is really to focus on special projects that steal your time away from actually running the department,” he said. “Really, I think the critical piece of Randy’s role is grant opportunities and looking for revenue streams.”
The change happened as the district talked about what it would do when Johnson, who has been with the district for 10 years, left his role. The district had two assistant chiefs, Neckels and Howard Johnson.
“We looked at the skill sets of the three of us and restructured a bit,” he said.
Neckels didn’t start out planning to be a firefighter. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 32 years, with all that time spent in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. He was close to being in the family business. His father worked for the National Park Service and worked at national parks around the county. He moved his family to Wyoming to be assistant superintendent at Grand Teton National Park when Neckels was in high school.
It was in the Forest Service when Neckels first got involved in firefighting.
“I started work for the Forest Service when everybody was a firefighter, whether you wanted to be or not,” he said.
But firefighting appealed to him and he became a volunteer firefighter. He was a volunteer battalion chief for Jackson Hole Fire and EMS for more than 17 years. Along the way he held many roles in the Forest Service, retiring as the construction and maintenance supervisor at Bridger-Teton.
While he was in Wyoming, he met Randy Johnson. Johnson left Wyoming and was the chief at Chelan County Fire District 1 before coming to District 4 and when an opening came up in Chelan, he told Neckels about it. Neckels was the deputy chief in Chelan for a little over three years before following Johnson to District 4 when a position opened up.
Neckels said he always hoped that he would be able to become a fire chief.
“I thought when I started volunteering all those years ago that someday it would be fun to be fire chief,” he said. “I’m excited about the challenge. That’s the neatest part for me is the new challenge.”
The ceremony welcoming Neckels to his new position was different from a traditional badge pinning ceremony. It was held during a Zoom officer’s meeting with only Neckels and his wife, and Howard Johnson and Fire Commissioner Jack Hensley in the room.
“My wife pinned my badge on my shirt and Commissioner Hensley said a few words,” he said.
He and his wife, Cori, live near Elk and have a blended family of three children and two grandchildren. They have been married for 11 years.
There are no immediate plans to fill Neckels’ old position of assistant chief, he said, though it will likely happen.
Neckels said he’s glad that Johnson will not be leaving the department.
“It allows us to have sustained mentorship and take advantage of the institutional knowledge he has,” he said.
“It’s nice to have somebody who has been there and done that right at your fingertips.”
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