IFFD division chief moving to Saudi Arabia

Jeff and Kaaren Parsons

Jeff and Kaaren Parsons will trade in the Idaho Falls winter for clear, 60 degree days in Ras Tanura, a city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

Jeff will resign Thursday as Idaho Falls Fire Department training and safety division chief to accept a similar, permanent position with Saudi Aramco, the massive Saudi Arabia-based petroleum and gas company.

After 22 years working his way up fire department ranks, Jeff said the move reflects a “leap of faith” well-suited to his skills.

“I had a captain in the first few years of my career who impressed upon me that you should be doing something today to prepare for tomorrow,” Jeff said. “We’ve loved living here in Idaho Falls, but we’re kind of ready to move on. And we’re excited.”

After holding every line position in the department, a 2015 promotion made Jeff the fire department’s first training and safety division chief. As such, he was responsible for developing a training program to reinforce standards among recruits.

When he was hired in 1995 without any firefighting experience, Jeff spent about 15 days training. Now, recruits spend a minimum of 45 days in a boot camp-like program, and that number may expand in coming years.

New practices also were implemented, including the use of high-flow hoses, in contrast to most departments — “There’s a joke in firefighting that we follow 200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress,” Jeff said.

Changes to recruiting and other practices reflect Jeff’s focus on training, which he said is the foundation for safety.

“No matter how long you’ve been on the job, we always train,” Jeff said. “In times of stress, just like in the military, you revert back to the things you trained on the most. So we always worked very hard to make sure those skills and concepts are based on industry best practices, standards and science.”

That focus is part of the reason Jeff was hired by Saudi Aramco.

He’ll train a mix of Saudi and western expatriate firefighters within the company’s sprawling fire service, which encompasses 1,800 firefighters across 49 stations. The Idaho Falls Fire Department, in comparison, employs 120 line personnel across six stations.

Saudi Aramco stations are responsible for protecting industrial operations, such as refineries, and townships.

Jeff heard about the position in March during a fire officer class in Alabama.

“I submitted an application, and I didn’t think it would go anywhere,” he said.

After months of visa applications and background checks, the Parsonswill depart from the United States Dec. 28.

Their house contains a couch, love seat, table set and beds; the rest of their furniture was claimed by estate sales. Vehicles were sold, and the house will soon change hands as well.

“It’s been a very liberating process. I’ve realized all this stuff is just stuff,” Jeff said.

The two Parsons kids are in college, which Jeff said presents an opportunity to start a new phase in life. Their Labrador/husky/shepard mix also will make the move after an exhaustive round of veterinarian visits, vaccines and certificates.

“It was much easier to get me over than the dog,” Jeff said.

One thing not yet decided: how the Parsons will scratch their service itch.

Kaaren Parsons is director of the Soup Kitchen in Idaho Falls. She and her husband also regularly volunteer at the Community Food Basket - Idaho Falls.

Saudi Aramco is involved with charity work, and there looks to be volunteering opportunities in schools, libraries and with refugee programs, Kaaren said.

“I’m anxious to get over there, sit back the first few months and pick something to get involved with again, because that’s our nature,” she said.

A large percent of their remaining spare time will be spent traveling.

Saudi Arabia will become a gateway to Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa and Western Europe. An April visit to London and Spain was one of the reasons Kaaren agreed to leave Idaho Falls.

“When Jeff first applied I was like ‘no way.” Then I fell in love with Spain, the different cultures and nationalities,” she said. “I realized we’ll be so close to Greece, Africa and so many places. It was a really hard decision. We love it here, but we would regret it if we didn’t go for it.”

Jeff, 50, is eligible to work 10 years with Saudi Aramco until company policy mandates retirement.

“We’re going to see how it works out, but if we get there and love it, we may stay the whole time,” he said. “… I would also like to thank the citizens of Idaho Falls. The way the city has treated us has been awesome — it’s been a great run.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.