Last Wednesday was Verde Valey Fire Chief Nazih Hazime’s last day at Verde Valley Fire District Station 31 after seven years as the leader of the 39-member department.
Hazime was born in Highland Park, Michigan and “decided he wanted to be a firefighter early on.” He got a degree in fire science and was hired in Dearborn, Michigan at the fire service where he worked for 25 years – the last five years as fire chief of the 125-member department.
Hazime retired from Dearborn and was then hired as the chief in Sedona in 2011, where he worked for two years. He was then offered the job as the chief of the Verde Valley Fire District which he has held for the past seven years.
Being a fire chief was never his plan, he said in an interview on Tuesday. “My goal was to become a captain or battalion chief and I was comfortable with that.”
Hazime said people came seeking him out to be fire chief so he said he had to give it a chance. “If someone believes in me, I have to at least pursue it and see what happens, which I did.”
How did you get into firefighting? Why?
I got into it (firefighting) because of the line of work, you are helping people. That’s the reward. You don’t come into this job for the money. It’s not a job to say: I’m to going to make a million dollars. You come into saying the job itself is going to allow me to impact people’s lives in a positive way… I’ve always said the fire service is for someone who truly loves the job. If your heart’ not in it, and you don’t give it 100 percent, you don’t belong here because people rely on you to save their lives. That’s how I always look at this profession.
What is the most rewarding thing that you will remember about the vocation of being a fireman?
I guess it gets back to making a difference in someone’s life on their worse day. That’s the reward. Unfortunately, there are times when there is nothing you can do and people do perish in front of you, and seeing that happening from time to time, that’s tough to get through. But together we do it. “
What was your “best” day or days as a fireman?
“I would say having the incidents that are very challenging where they are requiring you to really implement all that you’ve learned, you are bringing all of your experience and everything to the table because you have exhausted everything else to make a difference for a positive outcome. Whether it’s someone’s life or saving their home, there’s so much that goes into that. Your skill level requires a variety of different levels from medical, firefighting, hazmat, to swift-water rescue to high-angle rescue to high-rise fires which we had in Dearborn…” Some of them are so challenging, you really have to reach into your toolbox and find the right solution to fix the problem and when you do that, boy that’s just a great feeling.”
What was your worst day as a fireman?
Worst day was probably a house fire that we had early in the morning in a winter month back in Dearborn and there was a 16-year-old boy that needed to be rescued and the house was heavily involved in fire and smoke. Father was on the front lawn screaming at us to save his son, save his son. The father himself was severely injured. He had jumped out a second-story window trying to get up to his son in the upstairs bedroom to help him and rescue him himself. We got to the scene and he’s yelling at us to help his son and he’s covered in blood, so we assembled a crew quickly, went in for a search and rescue, which is what we are trained to do, but the house was so badly compromised by the heat and fire, it was a feeling that I didn’t think I was going to get out alive. And I think I speak for my crew too. We all felt the same way. It was one of the risk-versus-benefit. We were willing to take that risk because we felt there was a life to be saved. When we finally reached the young man, in an upper bunk upstairs, we were able to grab him off the bed, and carry him out. We got about half-way down the stairs, and I ran out of air. So I was trying to gasp for air and not let this kid go in my arms, and I didn’t, and we got him outside, and then I quickly ripped my mask off and was able to breathe. However he was in a full code, so we had to CPR on him, and I stayed with kid all the way to the hospital and worked him to try to save his life. Unfortunately, he perished. And that was sad. And to find out what happened with that fire, how it happened was even more upsetting, because it could have been prevented.”
How do firefighters and emergency responders deal with the trauma of helping others and saving lives? Say after doing CPR and in responding to car accidents?
We go through a lot stress, mental stress, physical stress. And we deal with it first, and foremost, with eachother normally. We get back to the firehouse, we’re family. Fire service is a family. So you start talking about the incident and that helps, by expressing what you saw, what you felt and how you get though it… What we are getting involved with now is Critical Incident Stress Management of different levels. It’s not just training certain people in the organization to be peer counselors for our firefighters, but also to go get some additional training
Do you think of the fire suppression techniques for wildfires in Arizona are a good idea? “Absolutely, that was a learning-curve for me come here from a big city to learn about wildfires. What is that all about? The only way I got to understand it all was by taking classes and getting training myself and understand why they do burns and prescribed burns. And that’s important and there’s science to it and it’s been proven. Unfortunately, they (the National Forest Service) do try to do on days that do not impact the community. .. The payoff is clearing an area to prevent a more severe wildland fire when we have the drought seasons.”
How has your wife, Laurie, played as a partner in your role as a fireman?
My sounding board. I bring home things to her. With her experience in Information Technology back in Michigan and all the years she’s got in experience to offer… I kind of bounce things off her and she gives me her professional advice and I treasure that. We make a good team…My wife opened up to me and said what a relief it was for her when I became chief because she didn’t have to worry about me on the 24-hour shifts working the fires, being the first ones into fires, being the first on-line.
How many friends have you made in the Verde Valley? I hear many are buying you breakfast recently?
I was going through all my contacts … and I have 1,500 contacts within the Verde Valley, Sedona, Prescott area, really across this Northern Arizona area, actually across the whole state. Some have become friends, certainly partnerships, you know relationships, and it’s to work together and that’s why you do those things… Wherever I can connect with people and educated them and help them become safer and protect them against any injuries, I’m there to do that. So they (homeowner associations and other groups) invite me in to give talks on fire prevention and household safety and whatever we can do to help them. I’ve been overwhelmed with invites from (fire) chiefs from the Prescott side, this side, individual friends and people that just want to say congratulations and good luck. So it’s really nice. It’s actually amazing.
Is this it? Retirement?
This is retirement. I may do some consulting work, .but right now I’m just going to relax, take a deep breath. I even find myself sleeping at night.