After more than two weeks of work, the new chief of Needham Fire plans to tackle recruitment and response time issues head on.
Jason Cahill took over as chief of the Needham Community Volunteer Fire Department on January 1. The department provides fire services to the community of Needham, as well as areas of the townships of Needham, Clark and Franklin.
Cahill is a second generation firefighter and has been involved in the fire service for 21 years. He is also a captain in the Grissom Air Reserve Base Fire Department. Originally from Ohio, he followed in his father’s footsteps by joining a local fire department while still in high school, according to Needham Fire.
Once he graduated from high school, Cahill enlisted in the United States Air Force and served on active duty from 2005 to 2009 as an Army firefighter. the air, according to Needham Fire. After separating from active duty, he moved to Whiteland to be with his wife, then his fiancé, before moving to Greenwood.
Beginning around 2010, Cahill joined the Greenwood Fire Department, working at Station 94 on the east side of town for a few years. This is how he was first introduced to Needham Fire, he said.
“We used to go to Needham and Clark Township regularly to help out those guys a bit,” Cahill said. “I was never able to be part of this department. Considering I had small children…it was just a lot at the time.
When Cahill learned that the department was looking for a new chief last year, he decided to apply. He didn’t expect to ultimately be chosen, he said.
“It’s an honor to be selected for such a position,” said Cahill.
He is the department’s first external hire for a fire chief. He will continue to work for the Grissom Fire Department, dividing his time between it and his new part-time job as Needham Fire Chief, he said.
Cahill is now in charge of about 32 firefighters, mostly volunteers. The rest are paid part-time as part of a reserve force that runs the station from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., he said.
After Cahill took the reins on Jan. 1, he conducted a comprehensive review of the department, looking at staffing and their typical callings. One of his main goals as chief is to reduce the department’s response time, especially at night, he said.
“Because we’re part-volunteer and part-paid, one of the challenges we continue to encounter overnight is getting very fast response times,” Cahill said.
This challenge is not unique to Needham, other fire services in the area have also encountered it, he said. Cahill cited Trafalgar Fire’s recent decision to have its department staffed 24/7, which will ultimately shorten response times in this area.
Like Trafalgar and other volunteer departments across the United States, Needham Fire also struggled to recruit and retain firefighters. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Voluntary Services would bring in 30 people to fight a fire when called. In 2023, this is no longer the case, he says.
“My number one goal is to address this issue and figure out how we can recruit and retain (firefighters) to ultimately provide better fire protection to the citizens of Needham and Clark Township,” Cahill said.
Cahill tried to increase recruiting by being more active on the department’s Facebook page and using it for recruiting. He also hopes to work with the Needham District Fire Protection Board and county officials to see what can be done to improve the department’s response times, he said.
Cahill says Needham Fire is in a very good position for its future. He has great equipment and great members, and his predecessors have laid a great foundation he can use as he works to make the department even better, he said.
It’s just going to take time, Cahill said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “I’m in a good position to improve the services there at Needham.”
The department continues to seek volunteers, Cahill said. Those interested in joining should contact via the department’s Facebook page, facebook.com/NeedhamVolFD, or by email at [email protected]