By Steve Woodhouse
Knoxville — According to the Human Resources Department for the City of Grand Rapids, Mich., fire lieutenants, such as the man selected to Knoxville's next fire chief, Nick Bonstall, earn $69,263 annually, compared to the $59,000 he will receive here.
Bonstall told the Journal-Express earlier this week that moving to Knoxville, with a salary of $55,000, would not make it feasible for him to move to Knoxville.
"Feasibly, there wouldn't have been a way for us to do it," Bonstall said. The median household income in Holland, Mich., where Bonstall resides, is $40,647. Knoxville's median household income is $39,358.
Bonstall has been working as a firefighter for 15 years, since he was 17 years old. He has lived in the Grand Rapids suburb all of his life.
"It's a big move," Bonstall said. Though the move is large, chances are Knoxville and Marion County will not make him homesick.
"It reminds me of home so much," he said. For instance, Holland is a strong Dutch community, which also celebrates a Tulip Time. To be reminded of that, he will just have to cross the Des Moines River.
Holland also has its own race track. Bonstall said he was once involved in racing, having driven go-karts and Late Models over the years.
"Racing is very near and dear to our family," Bonstall said.
Bonstall will be moving to Knoxville with his wife of seven years, Kristi, twin newborn daughters and a son. The couple began dating in high school. Both are eager to come to Knoxville to be a part of the community. Kristi has been a softball coach and into sports. She wants to try to get involved in local sports when they arrive. Knoxville City Manager Harold Stewart indicated that Bonstall should be able to take over the fire department in February 2013.
Professionally, Bonstall has been a member of the Grand Rapids Fire Department management team for four years and an officer with the department for seven. He has experience with emergency planning, hazardous material planning, and has training experience.
There are 225 full-time firefighters on the Grand Rapids department, staffing 11 stations that serve a population of 190,000. The biggest joy of being a firefighter, for Bonstall, is knowing that he can make a difference. He relishes the ability to communicate the public about fire safety, to pass on the knowledge of what the public can do to protect themselves and take a proactive approach.
When he gets to Knoxville, his top goal is to get to know each person on an individual basis. He wants to learn each member's goals and why they joined the department.
Overall, he wants to get to know Knoxville's vision and providing leadership to see it through. He is not interested in coming to town and making the department his, without respecting the wishes of those already serving the department and the community at large. Bonstall intends to reach out to the community through the media, Chamber of Commerce, schools, churches and anywhere else he can.
Bonstall is eager to pick a local church to attend. He is a Cadet Leader at his local, Christian Reformed church, and he teaches Sunday school.
Moving across the country will be difficult, but he is eager to raise his children in an environment like Knoxville's. Working in Grand Rapids has forced him to respond to violent emergencies, such as shootings, on a routine basis.
Bonstall added that he respects the job Greg Higginbotham has done, while serving as interim fire chief. Higginbotham has served in that capacity since February.
"I think Greg has done a great job," Bonstall said. "All of us together will make a stronger fire department."