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Michele Talley finds rewards in the fire service

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | May 16, 2023 1:30 AM

QUINCY — Michele Talley said she got interested in firefighting right out of high school and has stayed interested ever since.

“I started as a volunteer firefighter in Southern California when I was 18,” she said. “When I got married and started a family, l left the fire service – and I missed it.”

So when she had the chance she started learning more about it.

“I went back to college, just to give myself something to do, and I started taking fire prevention, fire investigation classes, those kinds of things,” she said.

Talley has been a volunteer or on the paid staff in fire departments in three states. Currently, she is a lieutenant with Grant County Fire District 3 in Quincy, and earned certification as a fire marshal in April.

Her college instructor was part of the fire department in Apple Valley, California, a town that was big enough to have a paid staff.

“I got hired on there. It was mostly as an inspector, where you do fire and life safety inspections, public education kind of stuff, which I really enjoyed. I got my first taste of it then, back in my 20s,” she said.

Talley said she and husband Dave wanted a change and moved to the small Eastern Oregon town of Helix.

“I started volunteering at my local department and went up through the ranks, (became a) training officer, and became a district chief there,” she said.

The family came to Quincy when her husband accepted a job at Quincy High School.

“So I started all over as a volunteer here,” she said. “I got to recreate myself with each state.”

She joined GCFD 3 as a volunteer in 2009 and eventually was hired for a paid position as the firefighter retention coordinator. She’s been on the district’s paid staff for 10 years, she said.

“This is my 29th year,” she said, as a volunteer or on a department’s paid staff.

But as a veteran, Talley said she started thinking of the future.

“So I started thinking, ‘Okay, what are some things I can do, that if I can physically do this job, (will) still make a difference?’ Now this department still requires you to be a line firefighter. We’re just not big enough to have you stand alone in an (administration) role,” she said.

But she still wanted more skills, she said, and started thinking about the fire prevention and inspection work she had done in her 20s. Jim Kling, the district’s previous fire marshal, had announced his plans to retire. Talley started taking fire inspector certification classes and working with Kling to learn from his experience and expertise.

“It’s one thing to get the certification - okay yeah, I know where to find everything in this red binder, this fire code book - but another thing to actually apply it,” she said.

While there were classes, the certification process required a lot of studying on her own too, she said. Kling was fire marshal for more than 25 years, and was generous with his time and knowledge.

“It’s a lot of ongoing training. It really was a lot of shadowing Chief Kling prior to this and learning it in the field,” she said.

Kling still answers her questions, even after retirement.

“He’s still on speed dial,” Talley said.

A fire marshal does investigate the origin of a fire, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The fire marshal is involved in the entire construction or remodeling process, especially commercial buildings.

“I do everything from plan reviews for all new construction that comes in, with fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, things like that - the planning version of it too, what we call pre-construction systems - all the way through the testing of all those systems,” she said.

The fire marshal inspects fire hydrants during construction. If there’s a fuel tank in the project, she tests that. She conducts fire and life safety inspections.

“If you have a new business that comes in, before they open their doors I’m supposed to go through and do my walkthrough,” she said.

Existing businesses also are subject to inspections, and Talley said she likes to work with business owners to change anything that might need changing.

“I come from the education background, and I like working with people to teach them,” she said. “It’s like, ‘You want the safest building for your customers and your employees. And I want the same thing.’

“I don’t want to be the scary person. Yes, I have to enforce code, that’s part of my job, but I’m also here to educate them,” she said.

Talley is still learning herself, she said, and has found that contractors and building owners usually are willing to answer her questions about their systems and work with her. She cited the data centers currently under construction in Quincy as an example.

“Those are the cream of the crop contractors, and they’re excited about telling you about their projects. And they’re gracious. They know that I’m new and they’re not trying to pull a fast one. They want you to know how their systems work.”

It’s a great job, though, she said.

“It’s never the same day twice, that’s what I love about my job,” she said.

The fire service attracted her because it allows her to help her community, she said, and that’s what’s still attractive about it.

“I really enjoy what I do. I really feel like I’m making a difference,” she said, “and that’s what brings a lot of joy to my job.”

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Michele Talley, right, and Casey Severin, left, of GCFD 3 present an award to Jim Kling, center, after his retirement in January. Talley said Kling provided and still provides support as she became the fire marshal.

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CHERYL SCHWEIZER/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD

Michele Talley, second from left, listens to a presentation at the March meeting of the Quincy Valley Medical Center commission. She is a QVMC commissioner.