Ian Cranston

“..people joke, and they ask ‘do you want to be the fire chief one day?’ I don’t necessarily know that that’s the case but I definitely want to be in a position where I can affect the most change
with the education, skills, knowledge, and ability that I acquire.

Ian Cranston

Ian Cranston


Station 1: Jackson

Where are you from and how did you end up in Jackson? I’m originally from northeast Ohio, about 15 minutes west of Akron in a town called Wadsworth, Ohio. I was born and raised there and, the story’s pretty simple, I was living a typical northeast Ohio life. I found whitewater kayaking at 23, and it completely changed my life. By 29, I was a weekend warrior and I started going to this place called Ohiopyle in Pennsylvania where the lower Youghiogheny River is. That’s where I became a good class 3 boater, then a good class 4 boater, then I was firing it up throughout the whole east coast and the southeast. I said to myself, ‘this weekend warrior stuff, taking two weeks off a year to do this, is not what I want.’ So, I packed it all up and started driving west. I drove to Jackson and the rest is history! I pulled into town, went to the town square and I sat down on a park bench facing west, reading a newspaper. ‘Oh, there’s a bluegrass band playing at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar!’ I was like, hmm…Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, I wonder what that is. I put the paper down, looked up, and there it was. So, I went in and the waitress was moonlighting there as a waitress but she was a graduate student at the Teton Science School. I left her my number, ended up getting a job, getting a place to live, getting a girlfriend, and I just stayed! That was 17 years ago.

What is your role in the department? I am an engineer/paramedic on A shift at Station 1. We have Captain Carr and myself as paramedics and we’re with Jack Hutcheson and Pete Wilson. Those guys are great, and they crush it on the box (ambulance). Like everyone else in this job, 90% of what we do is medical but we have to be ready for all hazards. A shift is known for training a lot and working real hard. I love that part about it; I’ve always been drawn to coming to A shift for that reason. I just identify with it. On top of that, I am the department historian and cultural czar, as Lily (Captain Sullivan) calls me. If everyone has a better understanding of where we come from, we could all be on the same page of where we’re going. That for me is important, to try to gather as much information as I can. A lot of departments have historians, and it doesn’t mean that I’m in a library with my monocles on, pouring over ancient textbooks about the history of fire in Jackson. It’s not really that formal. But now, when people come into (fire) academy, there’s a video that they can see about Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, and all about what it is that we do. 

How long have you been a part of the department? I joined in the fall of 2014, and like everybody we bring on, my official name badge says class of 2015. A lot of familiar faces came from that academy, too: Jack (Hutcheson), Chance (Abel)…a lot of talented people typically go on to become career members. 

What made you want to join JH Fire/EMS? I grew up in the fire service. My dad was a volunteer firefighter and my mom was like the Shannon (Burns) of my home town. She was the fire chief’s executive assistant; they called it a secretary back in the 80’s. When I got out of school, it was just a couple blocks from the fire house and that’s where I would go after school until my mom got off work. I kind of grew up in the fire house. There was never a period in my 20’s or early 30’s where I was like ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to settle down here and become a volunteer firefighter, or be a career firefighter.’ And I’m really glad for that, because it came to me at exactly the right time. I was joining during my EMT Basic class, and at that point, I had never really thought of going career. As soon as I did the EMT class and started doing shifts with the crews though, I was like wow this is pretty sweet. It’s fun, the work that they’re doing is fun, and the schedule is pretty awesome. It was kind of a no-brainer for me. I can say very assuredly that I’ve never been like ‘ugh I have to go to work.’ 

What are your current certifications? I am an engineer, paramedic, engine boss, hazmat technician, swiftwater rescue technician, ropes rescue tech, confined space rescue certified, and fire officer I. 

What are your future goals in the department? Well, I just tested for captain yesterday (written 12/9/22). A lot of people know this as my MO, but getting into this a little bit later in life kind of puts the clock on you in terms of how long you can do this for. So, when I do the math in terms of getting a 25 year pension, that puts me at 67. Which, to do the job, down in the trenches, boots on the ground, at 67? That’s just not very realistic. I saw the writing on the wall that I need to be in some sort of administrative job for the latter years of my career. My goal is to finish my fire science degree, finish my bachelors in the next couple years, and combine those with a Masters degree in public administration. None of this is coming from a motivation of wanting to be in power. I mean, of course I am drawn to being in charge because I think I have a commanding presence and can affect things in the community in a positive way, but all of this is motivation for setting my kids and my family up for the best situation before I die. It’s that simple. I’m not going to be able to do this at 67 in the mud and the blood and the beer. I wish I had more time to marinate in a lot of these jobs…I would love to be an engineer for like 10 years, but I’m qualified in terms of certifications to be a captain, so I’m testing to move into the captain role. Then hopefully I can marinate in that for a little while, get myself a little bit of experience to move up into the chief officer realm. You know, people joke, and they ask ‘do you want to be the fire chief one day?’ I don’t necessarily know that that’s the case but I definitely want to be in a position where I can affect the most change with the education, skills, knowledge, and ability that I acquire.

Do you have any other jobs or side gigs that you do, outside of the department? I am a dad first and foremost and that takes a big portion of my time. I work quite a bit of overtime to make up for not having a side gig, because when I do the math, doing 24 hours of overtime here is a lot more lucrative and pays towards my pension as opposed to doing a side gig like banging nails or something. I’ve had a couple offers to do other things, but I tried it and it just doesn’t work. I’m not as inspired to do that kind of work as I am inspired to do this kind of work. 

What do you do in your free time? Well, I ski and I’m still a whitewater kayaker. Adventure is a big part of my family. We love river trips, and one of the most interesting things about me is that my wife and I fell in love on the Grand Canyon and then went back two years later and got married in the same exact place. The river is a big passion of ours, and we’ve passed that onto our kids. It’s tough, because it’s only a 5 month season, but we parlay that with travel as much as we can and we go camping quite a bit. We’re really just trying to engrain that kind of life into our kids, like you can live a life less ordinary and still be a productive member of society. So anyways…family’s huge and I love all the outdoor recreation stuff: hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing, boating, fishing, all of those things that come with living here. We’re six hours from the desert and 6 hours from the Salmon and 6 hours from Missoula and Bozeman and all these really awesome places. Jackson Hole is so centrally located for a lot of these really cool outdoor recreation towns. I just love that part about being here, that every single season offers the best of everything.

What would you say is your favorite or most rewarding part of this job? Well, there’s the book answer: I like helping people. I think it’s a lot more complex than that. I would definitely say that it’s along those lines, but…it’s hard to put into words…we have the ability to truly affect somebody on their worst day and it doesn’t even need to be the skills that we perform in a prehospital setting: IV’s, airways, things like that. It’s the compassion that you can show people. To me, that’s one of the most satisfying parts of this job. When they are having the worst day of their lives, we can be there. And it just happened to me the other day. Somebody within the circle of emergency responders had an emergency and we weren’t able to do any of those skills, because the situation didn’t really allow for it. We could barely get a blood pressure let alone IV’s. Instinctually, I knelt down beside her and stroked her head and told her it was going to be ok, that we were going to take care of her. You could instantly tell that she felt comfort from that, and the situation got better. So it’s more than just helping people on their worst day: everybody says that. It’s the ability, over a certain amount of years, to have compassion for people. I find a lot of satisfaction in the customer service model of this job. If Mrs. Smith is walking down the road with her groceries and it’s raining, it’s ok for us to stop and give her a ride home. The sole reason we exist is for them. I think a lot of people lose sight of that, they feel entitled, that this job is for them. Our sole existence is based on helping Mrs. Smith.

What advice would you give new recruits? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the best way to put it is this: when you come into this job, the more that you can be a quiet observer and listen and learn, the more you can be successful. It’s not hard to find passion in this work, and I think one of the keys is trying to find that passion and then never letting it go. Always be grasping for it because the day’s going to come when you have all of the certs that are going to make it comfortable for you to rest on your laurels. The learning is never over in this job. 

This is a complex department in that we deal with the complexities of Jackson Hole, so a lot of people come into this with a lot of life experience. The ones that stand out to me are the ones who you know have made it in life, they’re successful. A lot of people who come here are a little bit older for that reason because they have set roots here, and the ones that I’ve seen that are successful are the ones that keep quiet and try to observe and learn and listen well. They’re the ones that have been the most successful. Like I said, a lot of it is tied to the complexity of where we live. On the other hand, if you go to a place like California or the East Coast or Chicago, a lot of people come into this job having just been discharged from the military in their early 20s and they are able to really be molded and don’t have a lot of life experience. That experience is what they are looking for, and they gain it through the fire service; that’s a more traditional way of doing it. But a lot of us have come in later in life and, the more humble you can be in the face of this is a real key to success. 

Is there anything you wish you had known when you started? I would have taken my own advice and kept my mouth shut more and listened more and tried to learn more. I think it’s ok to be ambitious and I take it as a point of pride that I’m ambitious but I won’t step on the heads of my colleagues in order to climb the ladder. In the beginning, I was blinded by the ambition to provide for my family and I may have alienated some people due to my ambition. If I have one piece of advice for anybody in life in general, it would be that every decision you have ever made up until this point has brought you to this exact moment, and that’s a very easy way to live without regrets. Life is all about decisions and decisions have consequences. We’ve all been through ups and downs, but all of the hard times and all of the good times have brought me to this moment. It’s hard to say that I don’t have any regrets about it, but I maybe would have done things a little bit differently. Like I said though, I would have taken my own advice, been more humble, shut my mouth more, and listened and learned. 

What would you say is the most important skill or trait for someone on this department? Humility is a great trait to have in this. Ego is what drives us to become better, and it drives us to survive and thrive in the world, that’s what drives our ambition and stuff like that. The superego is humility. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of type A and type B personalities, I subscribe to superego and ego and them balancing each other out. Generally, when I see imbalance in those two things, that person either has too much humility and is kind of a little bit meek or they have too much ego and too much confidence and can be overbearing. So finding a balance between confidence and humility is a big key to this. Thinking before you speak is another very important part of this job. We have that urge to talk about rumors or gossip or other people, but some of the best examples of leadership that I’ve seen in this department are the people who will stop that kind of thing right in its tracks. It takes a lot of courage to do that. A lot of times, you think about courage as like running into a burning building, but courage is a lot more than that: it can happen in everyday life. We just need to build each other up. 

What do you think you bring to the department? I hope that I bring inspiration for continuous learning. I hope that I bring inspiration for ambition to be better at the job. I think I bring consistency and I think I bring level-headedness and sound decision making. I see myself as a decisive person and I think that’s a really important part of this job. I also strive to be on a spectrum of leadership. I think there are times to be laissez faire and I also think there are times to be autocratic, and in between that is the democratic version where, just because I’ve been here longer, doesn’t mean that I have all the answers, and I think that takes humility. I want to be an inspiration for people who were maybe lost earlier in their lives and now can see this as a road that leads to an end, and through that is education and training. 

Who inspires you in the department? To figure that out, I would ask people, what’s your moral compass? We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants…who do you feel is your giant? Mine is Chief Moyer. He’s my moral compass. I just admire a lot about him. Chief Hansen as well, to be honest. There’s not a single person in this department who you can say is flawless. It all boils down to this: be nice. Mic drop. Be. Nice. Moyer really does follow that model and I think more of us need to have that. I don’t always feel that way, but I strive for it. Jim Warren. Mac MacFarland. I wish I could stop talking after saying something like that…just try to be nice.