Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Hailey to Lose a Second Fire Chief
Hailey Fire Chief Craig Aberbach served up his famous chili, which basically included everything but the kitchen faucet, at June’s Father’s Day Bash and Chili Cook-Off.
Saturday, August 10, 2019


Hailey Fire Chief Craig Aberbach is leaving after six years in the Wood River Valley to live closer to his aging parents.

“I’ve always instructed personnel to put family first,” he said. “It’s time for me to follow my own advice.”

Aberbach’s last day will be Sept. 30.

Aberbach came to the Wood River Valley in November 2013 from the Cape Coral Fire Department, recruited through a nationwide search. In Florida he had been division chief of a department that boasted 11 fire stations, serving a population of 160,000 and responding to 17,000 calls a year.

In Hailey he found himself chief of four full-time and 25-paid on-call volunteers. But his focus remained the same, regardless of the number of firefighters underneath him.

 “We learn from the past and train for the future,” he said.

Aberbach immediately set about to build up the Hailey fire department, while creating strong bonds between firefighters and fire agencies. He immediately set about testing hoses in freezing weather, and he established an annual firefighter holiday appreciation dinner.

He also established a program for high school students, hoping some of them would be inspired to serve their community as volunteer or paid firefighters.

In 2014 he initiated the Blaine County Fire Chiefs monthly meetings, serving as its chair for five years. In 2015 he encouraged the City of Hailey to enter into a contract with Wood River Fire District, through which he was assigned the duties of WRFD assistant chief.

He worked to standardize training and equipment in both departments. He was also assigned to implement Hailey’s Emergency Operations plan, leading the city through several fire and flood events.

Fire Chief Aberbach is “a force of nature in his own right,” said Mayor Fritz Haemmerle, as he gave Aberbach that assignment.

Aberbach also worked tirelessly on a Joint Powers Agreement, consolidating Hailey and Wood River Fire District under separate legal entities. The agreement established procedures by which firefighters could serve both departments and it reduced response times.

He also was successful in augmenting the fire department budgets with more than $1.4 million in grants and capital funding. Grants were obtained to purchase an EMS response service vehicle and to enhance recruitment, training and benefits for paid on-call firefighters.

Other grants were obtained to replace breathing apparatus, hose and other gear, while the City’s capital fund was used to acquire a new engine. The Hailey fire station is currently being upgraded with a grant project.

In Florida he had served as a professor at Edison State College, where he was chosen Florida State instructor of the Year. And after he moved to Hailey, he participated as a HOT--Hands on Training—instructor at the largest fire training conference in the country. He was able to bring high-level training to the community through his contacts.

Aberbach’s influence wasn’t limited to the fire house. He served on the board of the Senior Connection a couple doors down the street from the fire house. And he always managed to show up for its events, serving up mimosas and ice cream cones with flair.

"The Senior Connection is so grateful for his service at a time where strong leadership and perseverance was greatly needed," said The Connection's Executive Director Teresa Beahen Lipman. "He will be missed, but we support and honor his decision to be close to aging family members. Service above self."

He worked with the Chamber to launch such events as the Father’s Day Chili-Cook-off and Bash and the Wicked Wednesday fundraisers. He also championed efforts to recognize youth of the valley for good citizenship.

His wife Vicki, meanwhile, led dozens of Wood River Valley fun lovers in line dancing—first at the Hailey Grange and more recently at The Mint.

Aberbach will leave just a few days before Bart Lassman, chief of Wood River Fire & Rescue, retires. Lassman will retire on Oct. 3, 2019, after a 34-year career that began as a volunteer firefighter.



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