Last month the Lowell Area Fire Department (LAFD) promoted Shannon Witherell to Chief. Witherell began his connection to the department in 1994 as an explorer while in high school. He was later hired as a firefighter in 1998. Since becoming a member of the department he has been in several roles including lieutenant, training officer, captain, fire inspector and deputy chief. When Witherell was 12 his home caught fire and everything was lost. He attributes the care shown to his family during the early morning incident as the catalyst to his path in fire service, applying to become a firefighter right after completing high school.
“When Chief van Overbeek retired I saw an opportunity to continue to build on the great foundation he had in place and continue to grow the department through my knowledge and understanding of not only the fire service but of the community, department and the Authority.” says Witherell. He is looking to draw on the leadership Chief Martin and Chief van Overbeek who looked to put the community first in their work.
According to Witherell the support and trust of his team are a key component for the department’s success. The command staff helps with running daily operations and going out on calls when needed. The department is working through a transition of their current EMS license which will offer a “higher skill set of care” to customers. They are also looking into being able to offer community based CPR training and other engagement events.
Current challenges within the department include hiring and retaining the right staff. “We are more likely to receive calls for service during the day when most of our staff are working their full time job making daytime coverage a challenge.” says Witherell. He also says working during the pandemic has brought forth a new set of challenges as the department has consumed more PPE than in the past with supplies starting to run low.
Department training in 2020 has looked different. There are currently 20 paid on call staff who are all part time. These team members all have full time jobs outside their work with the LAFD. Hundreds of hours are needed for initial training, continuing education, and increased calls for service and community events. Small group training and meetings over Zoom have been taking place throughout the year covering Fire Officer Training, Fire Academy and EMT Training. The hope is to offer more specialized training in the coming year.
For the past 18 years Witherell has also been a salesman selling fire equipment to fire departments as a full time job. Taking on the full time Chief position at LAFD has meant stepping away from the sales position. Witherell and his wife have five children. “I am proud to have been able to serve this community for such a long time doing a job that I love. I am also proud of my family who is also very service minded.” he comments. His wife is a firefighter paramedic and also works in the Kent County 911 dispatch center. His oldest daughter is engaged to a firefighter, one son is involved in volunteer work at the animal shelter, and another is serving as Damage Control Fireman in the United States Navy, and his youngest daughter is looking to become a paramedic after high school. He concludes saying, “I am thankful for the support and confidence that the Fire Authority, City Council, both Township Boards, and the Community have entrusted in me and the confidence and support from our outstanding team.”
Photos courtesy of Shannon Witherell and used with permission.