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Chief Nichol stepping down at NKF&R

KINGSTON — When North Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Paul Nichol hangs up his fire helmet for the last time in February, it will complete a 48-year run working for and being involved with fire departments. Over half that time has been spent carefully guiding NKF&R and its crews toward a respectful team mentality, and now Nichol said he’s ready to sit back and enjoy a little rest after spending almost three decades shaping the department.

“I started here as a volunteer firefighter in the spring of 1960,” Nichol said. “My dad and I had a business in Kingston, and they stopped by and said not a lot of men had volunteered, so I joined as a volunteer for the fire department. Honestly, it scared me to death, but my dad was at the age where it was something he didn’t want to do. Honestly, I liked it after a while, there wasn’t as much going on then. We had just 20 calls a year, and there were no medical calls, it was all fire.”

He volunteered in Kingston for 15 years, during which he maintained the hardware store until his father died in 1968. Nichol said he ran the store for another year or two afterward before selling it. He took a position as the fire chief on Whidbey Island, which he left shortly thereafter when the chief position opened at the Kingston station.

Since 1982, Nichol has served as NKF&R’s chief, and has worked hard to build a system of teamwork, respect and providing an excellent level of service to North End residents.

“The people, I think,” he said when asked what he would miss most about the job. “We’ve worked together for a long time, we’ve gotten to a point where the time the people work on shift is relaxed... The same things that brought them here are the same things that brought me here. I have been assured that if I want to stop by for a cup of coffee, I will be welcome.”

NKF&R Capt. Ken LeMay has worked with Nichol since 1987, and said the chief was a role model, always encouraging through his words and actions the crews to maintain a calm demeanor. He said one of the things that has stayed with him from the start of the job was how Nichol handled different situations in a relaxed manner.

“I remember coming to work one day, and we had been having an issue, about 15 years ago, with three rigs got dinged up,” LeMay said. “I distinctly remember three to four episodes in three weeks, and Chief Nichol got us together and gave us a talk about using back up, and to be careful navigating driveways, because the damage was unacceptable. He came to work in his car not too long after and it was all dinged up, he had been involved in an accident that wasn’t his fault, and that was pretty comical the way he handled it after he had just gotten done asking us to keep the rigs in shape.”

Feb. 6, 2008 will mark Nicol’s final day before he turns the four stations and numerous firefighters over to Assistant Chief Dan Smith, who has worked with him for 15 years in the assistant chief role. When NKF&R began searching for a new chief, all the crews unanimously supported Smith being hired for the position, Nichol said.

“I think it makes it easier and tougher with the high expectations,” Smith said. “It’s easy to know the people you work with... But think of those high expectations (you’ve) got to meet. I think I’ve just got to continue what we’ve been doing. I’ve learned a lot in the last 22 years working with Chief Nichol. The management style we use for motivation, the management style really brings out the culture of this job and a positive work environment.”

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