MEEKER I For the first time in 15 years, the Rio Blanco Fire Protection District has a new fire chief, and Marshall Cook will also take over the title of EMT (emergency medical technician) chief, succeeding longtime chief Steve Allen.
Cook, 49, took over both duties on Feb. 16 after living and working his entire life in the Lamar, Colo., area, where he was chief from 2007 until he took the job in Meeker.
Cook is married, and he and his wife of a year and a half, Carrie, have three children: his son, Ryan, 25, who lives in Lamar; and two stepsons, Logan Arambell, 26, and Tanner Arambell, 24, both of whom live in Weld County although Tanner may soon be moving to Craig.
Cook’s son, Ryan, has been a fire department volunteer in Lamar for seven years, and he was just hired as a full-time firefighter since his father took the Meeker job. He had been not allowed to work full-time at the department because of department nepotism rules and his father being chief.
“Soon as I was out of there, they hired Ryan,” Cook said. “I am so proud of him sticking in there until there was room for him.”
Cook said that while he “may be a flat-lander, my wife has some close ties to the area, being that she grew up in Maybell and Craig.”
“We had been talking about doing something different for a little while,” Cook said. “We both love this part of the state and wanted to be in the mountains. Carrie still has family in the area, and when we started looking around, just at the time the Meeker job opened with the fire district, another job opened up at Pioneers Medical Center for a surgery manager.
“Carrie, a registered nurse, has experience in surgery and in managing, so she applied here, and we were both hired,” Cook said. “We are both thrilled to be here for several reasons.
“We knew the area and we wanted to get back with her relatives, who live within an hour of Meeker,” he said. “Usually, we would see her family once or twice a year, and already in the four weeks we have been here we have seen them three times.”
Cook was born in Lamar, and he earned his associates degree at Lamar Community College in 1986, then earned his bachelor’s degree at Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Ala., in March 2012.
Cook said he had plans to try and become a Colorado State Patrol officer when a friend in Lamar challenged him to attend a Lamar Fire Department meeting and see if it might be of interest. He said he really wasn’t interested but that he decided to go to appease the neighbor/friend.
“I gave it a try in 1985, and it didn’t take me long to realize I’d found my calling,” he said, adding that he joined the Lamar department as a volunteer in 1985 and joined full time in 1988, working his way up to chief. He also remained a a volunteer with the Prowers County rural department.
Prior to his taking the Meeker job, Cook said that when he and Carrie started looking around, he was a finalist for chief in November in Louisville, a Boulder County town of roughly 25,000 people.
“Louisville already had a lot of people and a lot of growth was projected in the next few years, and it was just too big,” he said. “I’m a small-town boy and was looking for a smaller town than Louisville.
“I also felt that after so many years away from her family, I owed something to Carrie to get her back closer to her family,” he said. “We are both thrilled to be be here in Meeker now, and we are committed to being here for a long time and it is great to get Carrie back on home turf.”
The Cooks are renting a home in Meeker right now but are expected to close on a house in town within 45 days.
“We love this area and feel committed enough to buy a home here,” he said. “We are outdoor folks, and for me this is a whole new world to explore.
“We have found Meeker to give off a first good impression, and we are looking to be here for a long stay,” Cook said. “We are looking at a long-term commitment to the community, and what has really impressed me is that Meeker is known as a community of folks working together and helping their neighbors.”
Last summer, Cook said, he accomplished something he is quite proud of. In July, he earned his chief fire officer international accreditation through the Center for Public Safety. With that accreditation, he is recognized in many countries as being accredited as a fire chief, qualified outside U.S. borders as well as within.
He said he had been working on the designation for a while but that he had to complete his bachelor’s degree before being considered. It is a rare accomplishment, he said, adding that until he moved to Meeker, there were only two fire chiefs east of Interstate 25 in Colorado with that accreditation.
“With me moving here, there is only one other chief east of I-25 now who has that designation,” he said. “There aren’t that many of us, but I am proud to be one.”
Of the Meeker department, Cook admitted, “My biggest challenge right now will be to learn the department and the community. Given the size of the department and the call log, the department has great equipment, modern equipment, the fleet seems to be in great shape; it is very impressive.
“I am also very happy to have a much larger group within the department who are qualified from basic firefighters up to and including the paramedics,” he said. “Our people are committed to doing the job, and doing it right, and they want to and seem anxious to learn more. That is very rare in a department this small.”
There are 40 members of the department, Cook said, “and I have already heard from a couple more people who may be interested in joining us.”
There are only two full-time people with the department and that is the chief and office administrator Vicki Crawford.
“There are always ways to make improvements to any work place, but I don’t see any real problems now, and I want to get to better know the members of the department and the community,” he said. “Steve (Allen) did a tremendous job, and it isn’t like he had a lot of problems and wanted to get out. He built a heck of a department and he and the members of the department should be proud of what has been accomplished here.”
Cook also said that he wants to remain available to the community and that he wants to hear compliments, complaints and suggestions and that he will be in his office five days a week at least and that anyone who wants to talk to him is “most welcome.”
“I am also very big on recruitment as I believe that the more personnel make for a better department,” he said. “I invite anyone who desires to help to please let me know.”
“I also must acknowledge the businesses and employers that allow the members of the department to get away when they are needed,” Cook said. “It seems that everyone sees the importance of the department and of neighbors helping neighbors. That makes for a neat situation where the importance of a fire, rescue and ambulance system is appreciated.”