The Edmond Sun

November 9, 2012

New fire chief recalls past, looks to future

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — In 2002, on a Sunday afternoon, Jake Rhoades, his wife Brenda and their sons JT and Carter were coming back from a family reunion in Dallas.

They stopped in Edmond to eat. Not long after they were back on Interstate 35 — Jake and his wife were in the front seat, their sons in the back seat — they were chatting when a car crossed the center median and struck their vehicle.

Edmond Fire responded to the scene. His wife broke her neck; she suffered no permanent damage. Their oldest son cut his head requiring dozens of stitches. Then-Fire Chief Gil Harryman saw to it that the family members were sent to the same hospital. That night, Harryman also came to the hospital to see if there was anything they needed.

“It’s one of those things I was always grateful to Edmond for,” Rhoades said. “Their customer service was outstanding. That’s common in the fire service, but to be on the receiving end of that was tremendous for me.”

Just a few months before the crash, Rhoades had taken a fire service class with Edmond Fire Department personnel. Ten years later, he is the fire chief of the agency that helped his family after the crash; the city announced the hire in September.



COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

Rhoades has other ties to Edmond. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Oklahoma Christian University, where he played baseball. He began his career with the Stillwater Fire Department where he was promoted to training officer during his 16 years there. His family attended LifeChurch in Stillwater and they are newcomers at the Edmond campus.

At Stillwater, he rose through the ranks, learning a great deal along the way. During his time there, he worked with Jon Neely, Edmond’s current chief training officer. Rhoades was always training and did some other things around the state. He knew he wanted to progress to another level.

He served as assistant fire chief with Jenks Fire Rescue and as deputy of training and special operations chief with the Rogers Fire Department in Arkansas, where he served from 2009 until coming to Edmond.

Rhoades is a hands-on type of leader. He likes to do a little bit of everything. He’ll show up at a scene and pull hose. He recalled a third alarm call at a Rogers strip mall on a 104-degree day. When they arrived — he was with the initial crews — smoke was visible. They went to work and knocked down the fire. The business was able to reopen six months later.

“That was incredible for us,” he said.



‘IT’S AN HONOR FOR ME’

Rhoades said when he learned he was chosen to be the new fire chief in Edmond, which is always ahead in the fire service, he was elated. He said Harryman did a great job during his years of service, and the citizens have supported the department with their tax dollars.

“I’m still amazed every time I walk here into this office or if somebody calls me chief here, it’s an honor for me,” he said as he sat in his office behind his desk. “To serve these guys and the citizens of Edmond is a true honor for me.”

From city leadership, to the guys in the department to the citizens his reception has been fantastic, Rhoades said. Edmond residents take pride in their community and the department will continue to work to provide outstanding customer service, he said.

Rhoades said he brings a fresh set of eyes and experience in various aspects of the fire service. He’s taking time to see how the department operates and he’s also getting to know Edmond. He said he understands the value of accreditation and he expects a high level of customer service.

“If we need another station, we’re definitely going to look hard at that,” he said.

Another priority for Rhoades is firefighter safety, doing whatever it takes to make sure that they are properly equipped. His résumé also includes obtaining designations from the Center of Public Safety Excellence as both a chief fire officer and chief medical officer. He also served as the Arkansas state advocate for the “Everyone Goes Home” program, and has served as a regional trainer for the Firefighter Near Miss program.

Rhoades said he stresses the importance of communication within the department. He said he also is mindful of the need to spend tax dollars wisely and  to be transparent.

Away from the office, he enjoys doing things with his wife and his sons. JT, 19, is going to college in Arizona. Carter, 13, is a student at Cheyenne Middle School. He said he also believes that God plays a part in guiding his life, and that he is here for a reason.



marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108