His path was circuitous, but J.R. Farnsworth still ended up where he thinks he is meant to be.
Farnsworth was named fire chief — his dream job — by the North Bannock County Fire District at a recent district meeting.
He will run the Fire District’s new volunteer fire department that was created after district officials couldn’t work out a new contract with the Chubbuck Fire Department, which had provided the Fire District with fire protection services since the district’s inception in 1987.
“It was my career goal to become a fire chief and so I’m accomplishing my own goal by doing it,” said Farnsworth, whose annual salary will be $56,000 for fire chief. “It’s still surreal to me at this point.”
At the Chubbuck Fire Department, the 48-year-old had been a full-time firefighter since December 2016 after previously being a six-year paid-call firefighter.
Firefighting runs in his family as he has two firefighting cousins and then there is his late grandfather John Farnsworth, who was a firefighter for around 30 years at the Pocatello Fire Department.
When J.R. was a child, he would wear his grandfather’s old helmet, coat and boots to pretend he was fighting fires.
“He actually inspired my pursuit to be a firefighter and become a fire chief,” J.R. said of his grandfather, who was Pocatello’s oldest living retired firefighter until he died last year at 99 years old.
While firefighting was in his blood, the profession didn’t come to fruition for J.R. until later in life. He had a desire to become a firefighter in early adulthood, but instead chose the National Guard.
J.R. has since spent over 20 years in the automotive industry, where he coincidentally met colleagues who were Chubbuck firefighters. They told him what he needed to do to join the firefighting trade.
Then the Pocatello resident became a paid-call firefighter for the Chubbuck Fire Department in 2010.
Before his rise to fire chief, he was preparing as if the role would eventually be his. He has attended firefighting national conferences, been educated by a firefighting career preparation and advancement organization called Fire Alumni and has had a fire-chief centric post-secondary education.
At Purdue University Global, Farnsworth obtained a bachelor’s degree in fire science in 2017 and is pursuing a master’s degree in human resources management and personnel administration.
Everything he has done to prepare himself for this moment will be put to the test, leading a volunteer fire department created this year. For additional funding for the department, a special emergency property tax levy was passed in August, increasing the Fire District’s property tax levy from $153,000 to $500,000 for the next two years.
Farnsworth’s role entails recruiting more firefighters, budgeting, purchasing equipment and fire inspections among other tasks.
He is looking for alternative locations for a temporary fire station, as the building that was supposed to house it collapsed on Aug. 20 — the same week he was announced as fire chief.
“My job’s going to basically entail building this department from scratch,” said Farnsworth, who’s working out of donated office space at Pocatello’s Station Square. “I’ve prepared myself for this moment, knowing it was going to be my career.”
On top of having a plan for his role, he has to have a plan for his firefighters.
In his first meeting, he explained to them that they will do more than fight fires.
“We’re there to be a service organization to the community,” Farnsworth said. “That means if Mrs. Smith needs help walking across the street, you will find my volunteer firefighters doing that.”