LIHU‘E — Heading the Kaua‘i Fire Department requires more than just overseeing land operations. It’s overseeing lifeguards saving swimmers swept out to sea and sending teams aboard Air 1 to save injured hikers.
And to new arrival Fire and Ocean Safety Chief Steven Goble, that’s part of the job’s appeal.
“When I look at the responses for the island, the diversity of challenges is something that really kind of excites me,” Goble, who took the helm of the department Wednesday, said. “The land I’m most familiar with … then you add in the challenges of the water and the Ocean Safety and then there’s an air element here, too.”
In January 2016, Goble retired as Fire Chief from the Henderson Fire Department in the Las Vegas metropolitan for a job in the private sector. Returning to a role in a fire department is familiar.
“A lot of what’s going on in this department today are the things I’ve experienced in my own department,” Goble said. “It felt like home.”
Goble’s 100-day plan begins with listening. Listening to community members, the Kaua‘i Fire Commission, local government and his own department.
“I want to make sure I’ve got big ears,” he said. “I need to understand and hear from and learn about what the priorities are for us in our mission.”
From there, it’s about finding a balance and aligning these goals with the department’s objectives.
“I view my role as the fire chief to serve them (my team),” he said. “(I want to) make sure they have the tools and equipment and cast a vision that allows them to do their job the way they need to do their job.”
And he knows how to do the job.
In Henderson, Goble oversaw nine fire stations including more than 250 full-time personnel covering more than 105 square miles with a population of more than 290,000 and 600,000 annual visitors after rising through the ranks of the department serving as a firefighter, fire engineer and fire captain in the fire/rescue operation before moving onto a division chief of special operations and deputy fire chief before taking over.
Goble left to work in emergency management at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, the largest integrated resort in the nation. Over the course of four years, he worked his way to executive director and was instrumental in building an emergency management program with international coworkers, according to his resume.
In May 2019, a former battalion chief in Henderson alerted Goble of the Fire Commission’s search for a new chief. “It didn’t click with me that was something I was interested in, but it kept nagging at me,” he said.
Then the commission began a second recruitment call last fall. A second chance.
After an application, written responses, and an in-person interview in March, Goble was selected by the Kaua‘i Fire Commission of 67 applicants, closing a nearly two-year-long search that began when former Fire Chief Robert Westerman announced his retirement in June 2018. Assistant Fire Chief Solomon Kanoho took on the job of Acting Fire Chief.
“After a thorough interview process, Chief Goble stood out among many qualified applicants,” Fire Commission Chair Alfredo Garces said. “We are confident that Chief Goble will bring a wealth of experience to the Kaua‘i Fire Department and we welcome him with open arms to our community.”
Goble wrapped up his 14-day quarantine on June 26, and spent the weekend before taking the helm of the department exploring. The coronavirus pandemic has affected his ability to get ahead of his arrival, “But you deal with the challenges in front of you,” he said.
After 25 years of service, Goble can still remember the first fire he responded to.
“I remember the smoke pouring out of the windows, and the flames shooting out of the side window coming out of the bedroom,” he said. He can still remember the address of the medium-sized two-story single-family home. “I can definitely see it.”
Then there’s the biggest response to a chlorine leak at the Pioneer Chemical plant in 1991, where he helped evacuate and move residents. “I remember reporting to work and there was just this big green cloud over the whole entire city.”
And his first rescue: “We opened the door, and there was an unresponsive lady right behind the door overcome by smoke.”
But after rising through the ranks and serving as chief for five years, it was time to go, he said.
“I left the city of Henderson feeling that I’ve accomplished what I needed to accomplish,” he said.
Some of the very first people Goble looked up to were firefighters. The seeds, he said, were planted over time from the days of being a Boy Scout touring the fire station to listening to the tenants of the job from a mentor who was a firefighter.
“As I was getting older and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I looked at what he was doing, and listened to how fulfilling the work was and how different every single day was,” Goble said. “I thought, ‘You know what, that is something that I’m very, very interested in.’”
Goble went on to receive a Masters of Arts in Homeland Security and Defense from Naval Postgraduate School, a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration from Grand Canyon University and an Associate of Science in Fire Service Management from the College of Southern Nevada.
To Goble, it’s about the people, from the department to the people he serves. It’s about community.
“When (the community) sees one of the red fire trucks drive by or through their neighborhood, I want the folks in the neighborhood to go, ‘Hey, you know what this is? That’s our fire department. Those are our guys on that engine.’”
And those KFD engines caught Goble’s attention right away.
Because Henderson is part of the Las Vegas metropolitan, each company is differentiated by the look of its fire engine, Goble said. Henderson sported white-and-red-striped engines.
“The fire engines here are red, which I really, really like.”