Dow served as interim fire chief since Feb. 1 following former fire Chief Danny Kistner’s retirement in January. Dow brings more than 27 years of experience in fire services to the department, according to an April 28 city news release.
Dow joined the McKinney Fire Department as assistant fire chief in 2022 following his time as a consultant for the city to develop the Fire Officer Training Program, according to a news release. He previously served as fire chief in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 2018 to 2021.
Dow shared some insights on his professional experience and goals for the department. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What is your professional background?
I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I started as a firefighter when I was 19. ... I was a firefighter [and] EMT. It was a small system; it was great. I really enjoyed that. I was working construction out of high school, so I fell right into it. I worked for them for a couple of years, and then I went to Albuquerque and got hired on there. I worked my way through the ranks in Albuquerque from firefighter to driver to lieutenant, captain, battalion chief. About the time I became a lieutenant, I got really into teaching, and I was a driver at the academy.
I started teaching at the college, Central New Mexico Community College. I started teaching at the state fire academy. I did a couple of conferences as well, and I really got into teaching. Then I got into actually developing classes. In Albuquerque, we had a very well structured professional development program that I was a big part of actually putting together. ... I served as the Albuquerque fire chief for three and a half years, and about that time I hit my 25 years, which was the maximum in [their] retirement system. My wife and I had family here in McKinney, so we knew we were going to come out here once that happened.
Why did you choose a career in fire services?
It was the challenge. I did like helping people, I like working with the community, but I also liked the absolute challenge of it. I was working construction, and there was two electricians that I was working with, and they were both firefighters. I really enjoyed working with them, and they were very professional. They were good people in general, and I liked that, I wanted to be a part of that. I missed the team aspect from sports in high school, and so I started volunteering with them and just kind of fell in love with it.
That's what I love most about the fire service is that every day is different. There's always a challenge. You get to actually be there on someone's worst day, and it's an average day at work for you, but it's the only time in that person’s life that they may call 911, and you just have to perform. I love that.
What are the biggest challenges the McKinney Fire Department is facing right now?
The biggest challenge we have right now is keeping up with the growth. From a fire standpoint, we have enough stations, they’re in strategically located positions, they are in good spots, but of course projecting where the next station has to be. Prioritizing do we build another station and kind of infill, or do we go outside the areas where we're actually at. So those are some of the bigger challenges.
Then of course adding apparatuses as well. So seven of our 10 existing fire stations that we have, we have Station 11, but Station 8 is being torn down and rebuilt, so we technically have 10 operating stations. Seven of those stations have a medical unit. That's our two paramedics on a red ambulance basically. EMS is the No. 1 call that we go to, so I need to get all of my stations to have a [medical] unit, and that's one of the big priorities that I have.
Do you have any future plans or changes in mind for the department?
Yes, so professional development. A lot of my background is in teaching curriculum development. I really believe in that. It's not just about taking classes to take the class. I think a lot of the classes that I want to focus on are rank-specific, so like right now we're doing a captain's academy. This is for drivers that want to become captains.
We're going to make sure that they are very well-trained before they step up into the role of the captain. We've got human resources, we've got leadership, we've got strategy and tactics, conflict resolution, so there's a lot of core material that we want to get to them in the class. But we're going to do the same thing with drivers. So if a firefighter wants to drive, ... we want to train him specifically on the apparatus that we have here in the county. So we're going to build some custom classes for our guys.
What are you looking forward to most while serving as fire chief?
What I'm looking forward to the most is being able to make more leaders in the organization. Really succession planning. I'm always looking for a way to make sure that the next group can do it better than I can, to give them those tools. I always tell people ... I want to be the chief that I wanted, that I needed when I was lieutenant or a captain out there in the field. Someone that listens to them, someone that advocates for them, someone that trusts and believes in them. To me, that's the [biggest] thing that I try to bring to the department. When people see that, they will then go ahead and they'll also be able to emulate that as well.
What do you feel will be the most challenging aspect of this new role?
To me, they're fun challenges. I do really enjoy them, but it's a lot. Of course with our budget as well, there's a defined amount of money that is available every year, and we have to work within the confines of what is available in our budget. Staffing as well [and] projecting where stations are going to go. ... Making data-driven decisions based on call volume that we have, response times. Those are the things I like to dive into and really look at; those are the fun aspects for me.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I'm a servant leader, participative leader. I like to involve everybody in the decisions, but you've got to be careful with that because you can go to a point where you're not even making decisions. I want to get everybody's input, let's talk about it. Let's get all the information that we can, but then once a decision is made, we all walk out of that room as if we all determined that that decision is going to be so we are all in step.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or the department?
I am so blessed to be here. This is such an amazing organization. I brag about the department to friends I have back home. One of the things I think that's very unique about the McKinney Fire Department is the ties that we have to Collin College. ... I would say 15-20 of our members that teach at the college on a regular basis. ... We've got a lot of people that are just very committed in this department. It's been really nice. Anytime we need somebody to step up, there's always someone with their hand raised, ready to go.
Unfortunately we've had a number of challenges over the last few months; losing a couple of firefighters has been very hard for the department, but I’m very proud of the way that our department responded. They were willing to step up; they made sure that they took care of their members and families. It's a big family in the fire service, and it's really nice.