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A promise to protect: Dickinson fire chief reflects on first year

The Dickinson Fire Department has served under the wing and command of Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell for more than a year. Since then, the department has undergone administrative changes, conducted various training throughout the year and introduced new programs such as its EMT course partnership with Sanford Health and its Firefighter 1 Academy. As a relatively younger chief from Idaho, we sat down with Presnell, who reflected on his first year with the department and goals he has moving forward.

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Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell (pictured above) is excited for the future of the Dickinson Fire Department. Presnell took over the reins as chief in June 2020 and he has noted that the transition from being a former fire chief in Idaho to North Dakota has been overall a good experience. As fire chief, Presnell hopes to continue working on improving the department with training, community outreach, etc. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
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In just one year, the Dickinson Fire Department has undergone different transitions from administrative changes to introducing new programs to the community such as its Firefighter 1 Academy and an EMT course. Though this has been done all under new leadership, Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell credits his fire staff that have continued to show perseverance during a resilient year.

Taking over the reins as fire chief in June 2020, Presnell circles his first full year as leading the department. Though he came in as an outsider, Presnell noted that the Dickinson fire service community has been nothing but gracious.

“In all honesty, the team here at the Dickinson Fire Department has been extremely welcoming as well. When I got here, we just got right to work. It wasn’t hard to fit in. It is a tight-knit group, but I think that’s just the fire service in general,” he noted. “And coming from the fire service, I think it was a little easier to step in and start getting to work on moving forward in the future of the Dickinson Fire Department.”

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Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell (far left) briefs his fire crew at the scene of a a structure fire on Dec. 16, 2020. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

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Presnell, 38, originally from southern Idaho, has worked his way up to prestigious leadership roles throughout his lifetime. During his time in the U.S. Air Force from 2003 to 2011, he served as a firefighter. Upon arriving back in Jerome, Idaho, Presnell held a firefighter position, then served as deputy fire chief from 2013 to 2017. Before making the big move to the Western Edge, he gained more leadership experience as fire chief in Idaho from 2017 to 2019.

“I kind of feel like all of my life experience — professionally and personally — prepared me to take on the role,” he said. “From growing up on a farm and learning what it’s like to work hard to having almost 18 years of experience as a firefighter, I think it’s all prepared me to really take over the role (as) fire chief.”

One of the biggest changes Presnell has initiated was with the retirement of Assistant Fire Chief Deb Barros , he proposed to the City of Dickinson that the fire marshal and assistant fire chief positions be combined, creating a new title of deputy chief.

“Former Chief (Robert) Sivak really laid a great foundation for us to build on. We’ve made a few tweaks here and there, just some efficiency changes and some adjustments,” Presnell noted.

During his first months into the job, Presnell spent many late nights at Station 1 bonding with his firefighters, and learning more about the Dickinson community. Managing 12 full-time firefighters, four on the administrative side as well as a group of 25 to 30 volunteer firefighters, Presnell had no luxury of knowing his team prior to becoming chief.

“Regardless of management style, I think you really got to get to know your team and find their strengths and really help them and give them the tools that they need to be successful. That’s what I’ve been spending my first year doing. … (I have) an amazing team; we're getting a lot done and I feel like we provide excellent customer service to the community,” he said.

Presnell and his family have found their first year in Dickinson to be nothing but rewarding. Though it has been a smooth transition, Presnell is still fine tuning the best way to utilize the department’s fluctuating volunteer crew.

“The lesson learned (with) having a volunteer component of the department (was) finding what their threshold was of commitment whether we’re doing too much or too little to keep them engaged or taking up more of their time than what they can do. So it’s been a learning experience to find where the happy medium was in making sure that the fire department’s getting all of the training and stuff that the department needs, and we’re not taking too much of their time… But we do have a very committed and dedicated volunteer staff that just really cares about providing the best service possible to the City of Dickinson.”

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Jeremy Presnell poses for a candid shot with his son, Gage, during the time he served as fire chief in Idaho. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Presnell)

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Jeremy Presnell (right), now the Dickinson fire chief, smiles with his close friend Roy Bryant back in Idaho during Presnell's time as fire chief. Presnell took over as fire chief in Dickinson June 2020. Prior to his arrival to the Western Edge, Presnell served as fire chief in Idaho from 2017 to 2019. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Presnell)

Looking toward the future, Presnell has begun conversations about the need to have Station 2, which is located within the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center on State Avenue, staffed 24/7 like Station 1 is downtown. This move for the city would help fire crews and trucks get to the scene quicker for incidents that happen north of Interstate-94, he said, adding that this would help mitigate any emergencies that occur within city limits.

“We’re constantly looking for efficiencies, how we can do things better and save money. But all across the board, I think the cost of operating is going up,” he said, explaining, “The cost for equipment maintenance (and) for fuel is all going up and that’s obviously going to reflect in our budget that that does increase as well,” he said.

As fire chief, Presnell hopes that the Dickinson Fire Department’s community outreach increases throughout the years and also works on creating partnerships with entities in town such as the recent collaboration with Sanford Health to offer an EMT course .

Though he’s only starting his second year, Presnell remarked that the big move to North Dakota has paid off.

“It’s just a great place to live. When we made the decision to come to Dickinson, I got asked the question from friends and family, ‘Why Dickinson? Why North Dakota?’” Presnell said, pausing for a second. “Now, I know. It’s just a great place for my family; (this is a) great community. … There’s always something going on and people are so friendly and welcoming.”

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Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell (center) speaks to his fire crew at the scene of a trailer fire on the northeast side of Dickinson April 8, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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