Getting to know Battalion Chief Jeff Bolton
From MSU to the NFL to Big Sky
Back in 2006, Jeff Bolton signed a contract to join the Seattle Seahawks as a center in the National Football League after three and a half years as an offensive linesman at Montana State University. 16 years later, Jeff Bolton is one of three Battalion Chiefs for the Big Sky Fire Department behind Tetrault, Barker, and Megaard.
“They kind of joke about how, once you get done playing, there’s the plus or minus 50 lbs. club and I dropped a bunch of weight and my body feels a whole lot better,” said Bolton.
Jeff grew up outside of Haily, Idaho, but also spent time in Florida. He was adopted as an infant and his parents let him know at an early age. Bolton never felt like it defined him, however. His parents kept him busy. “Sports, that was my life,” said Bolton.
“Growing up I thought Shaquille O’Neal was my biological dad. I had this lifesize cutout poster of him in my room. Weight and size, it was all listed by year, you know? I matched him up until his shoe size went way way bigger than mine. I was like 10 years old and I realized he’s not my dad,” laughed Bolton.
As a kid navigating life in the 1980s, Jeff would occasionally watch cartoons on the weekends. As a father raising two daughters now, technology is everywhere.
“They have a different perspective just being born here. They don’t really know any different,” said Bolton, who loves to take his daughters outside for camping, softball, mountain biking, and fly fishing. “Their expectation is, as soon as I throw this into the water, I’m supposed to have a fish on,” chuckled Bolton.
Jeff met his wife Amber, who grew up in Helena, back in college in 2004.
Because Jeff entered the NFL draft as a 21 year old kid, he would like to go back to college and finish up his bachelor’s degree in community health in the next year or two. He’s only 16 credits short. His favorite classes in college, which he admits he may have neglected, were in psychology.
Asked about his favorite possession, Bolton paused. “I ended up earning the Rimington trophy my senior year in college. I was the top center in the nation. With that, I got a nice sized ring. That’s kind of a culmination of all the hard work, all the early mornings, late nights, blood, sweat and tears, kind of the end of an era in athletics. I would say that [would be one of my favorite possessions],” said Bolton.
After an injury in the NFL forced him to reevaluate his priorities, Bolton eventually found his way to the Big Sky fire department. “You figure you spend a third of your life with the same people, you know? It’s an extended family for sure,” Bolton explained.
“When somebody calls 911, that’s a big deal, you know? That could be the worst day of their life. And for us to go there, they don’t know us, they’ve never met us… this is the worst day of their life, and they are allowing complete strangers into their home and allowing them to take care of their significant other, their family,” said Bolton.
As a Battalion Chief for the Big Sky Fire Department, Jeff says it’s important to recognize the type of leader one needs to be for specific situations. A structure fire for example, where people need to make quick decisions, requires a different kind of awareness and decision making. His best advice is to be adaptive to the needs of your people and the organization.
The hardest part about being a leader for him? Managing people.
“There is a saying going around: would you want you rescuing you? To be able to look in the mirror and say that our customers look at us in their worst moment and we got to be able to perform,” said Bolton.
In the broader Big Sky Fire Department news, Bolton encouraged folks to take a look around for one last gift card hidden in a fire hydrant.
“We’re doing a big push right now on clearing fire hydrants. We actually have a video up on our Facebook page to clear a fire hydrant if there was a fire. Especially now, with everything getting warm during the day and freezing at night, it’s really hard to clear out a fire hydrant when it is frozen solid like that,” said Bolton.