News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Fire Chief Prior assumes command

In the late 1970s, when Sisters' new fire chief, Tony Prior, was a boy of 8, he came to Central Oregon from his home near Philomath to hunt mule deer. He also fished for rainbow trout in the Metolius River. And now, some 40 years later, he and his wife Dianna are calling Sisters home.

Chief Prior assumed his new duties as of late June, with the retirement of Chief Roger Johnson.

Photo by Cody Rheault

Tony Prior is Sisters' new fire chief.

Chief Prior moved to Alaska in 1994, married Dianna, had two children, and became an EMT/firefighter, working up to becoming chief of the Kenai Fire Department.

Prior comes from a firefighting family. His mother worked on a wildland fire crew for the U.S. Forest Service in Washington State and both his parents were volunteer firefighters in Philomath. His wife Dianna has a career in incident management with the USFS. She is currently the comprehensive claims unit leader in the finance section, dealing with all types of natural disasters. She also works as an AFLAC insurance agent in her off time.

The Prior's daughter Nicole is 24 years old, born on her dad's 29th birthday. Their son Cameron is 21. They are living together and working in Alaska. Nikki is a paramedic in a mutual aid department after participating in the Jump Start Introduction to Firefighting program her junior and senior years in high school. She ended up with a paramedic degree. Cameron is in school, training in process technology which applies to operations in the oil fields. He is working in paid internships which can lead to full time positions.

Prior has been a jack-of-many-trades, starting out working in construction at age 14 through high school for his wrestling coach. He did cutting and rigging as a logger and became skilled at installing shake roofs.

In 1994, Prior moved from Darrington, Washington to Kenai, Alaska where his brother was already working for a company manufacturing granules for fertilizer. During the summers, Prior worked in commercial fishing on a gill net drift boat. He also installed hardwood floors for a year-and-a-half. During all this time, he was volunteering for the Nikiski Fire Department, training all the time both as a medic and on structure fires.

The department offered lots of training opportunities with two stations, 20-23 full-time staff, and 30 volunteers. They also had a dive program through which Prior earned four scuba certifications. They would jump out of a helicopter into Cook Inlet, wearing dry suits. The silt in the inlet made visibility, and therefore sense of direction, in the water difficult. There is also a 10-12 mph tide to contend with. They also dove in area lakes.

Prior volunteered for three years from 1994-97 before he applied for an open position with the Kenai Fire Department. He had his EMT I certification, both state and national. He was also doing the Firefighter I training. He wasn't hired with his first application but a month and a half later another position came open and he was hired.

Tony and Dianna were married August 2, 1997, and he began his first full-time fire job on September 2, 1997. His probationary year was full of training in hazard materials operations, earning his Firefigher I, EMT II and III certifications, and testing every three months on maps, trucks, and operations training.

At the same time as being newly married and training as a firefighter, he also worked for a construction company and installed roofs for another company. His hard work paid off.

His career in Kenai progressed to his being named chief with a service area slightly smaller than the Sisters-Camp Sherman district. He also taught in the paramedic program at University of Alaska-Kenai.

Currently, Chief Prior is getting settled into his new position, seeing how everything works. As to hopes for the future, he would like to see an expanded training facility at the current site off South Locust. There is money that has been designated for that purpose that hasn't yet been used.

With the construction of more three-story buildings in Sisters, Prior said the department needs to consider purchasing a ladder truck which would be necessary for fighting fires in taller buildings.

One more wish would be to create the position of training officer for the department, something they currently don't have.

Because of the process involved in interviewing and hiring, Prior said he feels like "the whole community hired me."

"We are very blessed and excited to be here. Sisters has a lot going for itself with many things worth preserving. The community is so well-established and there is so much community involvement."


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