Portland Fire Chief announces plans to retire

Portland Fire Chief Frederick LaMontagne discusses the city's preparations for Hurricane Irene in this August file photo. He is flanked by City Manager Mark Rees and then-Mayor Nicholas Mavodones. (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

Frederick LaMontagne, chief of the Portland Fire Department, has announced he plans to retire in April after 27 years with the department, the last 10 as chief.

According to an announcement issued today by City Manager Mark Rees, LaMontagne is leaving “to pursue new professional opportunities.”

LaMontagne’s departure continues what has been a period of major turnover for the city of Portland. Rees himself became City Hall’s new administrator in July, Michael Brennan took over as the first popularly elected mayor in 88 years in December, and the city is still searching for a permanent police chief after James Craig left earlier in the summer to take the top police job in Cincinnati.

In his announcement, Rees credited LaMontagne with “fully integrating emergency medical services within the department, leading regionalization efforts for dispatch and 911 services, and spearheading emergency response for a number of natural disasters.”

Here’s a statement by LaMontagne released by City Hall:

Frederick LaMontagne

I am exceptionally proud of having served as a member of the Portland Fire Department over the last twenty-seven years. I am grateful to the men and women with whom I have had the privilege of working and for the personal and professional growth realized while in my various commands at the Department. Like many people, I have devoted my career to serving the residents of Portland. That being said, being Fire Chief requires not only personal sacrifice, but family sacrifice as well.  My retirement from civil service is bittersweet, for fire fighting is my in my heart and soul. I look forward to what the next chapter brings, but in my heart, I will always be a Portland Fire Fighter.

Here’s the remainder of the City Hall announcement regarding the chief, complete with some highlights of his service, and more comments by LaMontagne and Rees:

Twenty-seven years ago, Chief LaMontagne began his career with the department as a firefighter and rose through the ranks from lieutenant to captain, deputy chief and finally as chief. LaMontagne was appointed Acting Chief one month after the attacks on September 11th and under his leadership, the city enacted and implemented a wide array of policies and strategies designed to improve the community’s response to emergencies. As Emergency Management Director (EMD), LaMontagne commanded the city’s response to the Patriot’s Day Storm, the 2002 Ice Storm, and more recently Hurricane Irene. He also allocated resources to help assist victims of Katrina.

“Chief LaMontagne has been an incredible asset to the department, City Hall and the community at-large,” stated City Manager Rees. “His distinguished career speaks to his commitment to the city and department. As Chief of the largest fire department in the state, Fred helped created a responsive department that truly meets the needs of our residents.”

As Fire Chief, LaMontagne led the city’s response to a number of two and three-alarm fires including the response to the 3-alarm fire at Jordan’s Meats two years ago and the string of arson fires set in cars and home in Parkside four years ago. LaMontagne also worked to ensure that the department’s fire and EMS division were fully merged with firefighters trained in advance life support, which allows them to respond to medical emergencies on fire apparatus equipped. This effort has enhanced the department’s ability to respond to medical emergencies with medically trained firefighters and trucks appropriately equipped to respond to medical emergencies when they are closer to the location or ambulances and paramedics are responding to other calls.

“Since September 11th, emergency management and response to natural or man-made disasters has changed dramatically with new technology and strategies, which have improved our ability to ensure the safety of residents and property,” stated Chief LaMontagne. As EMA Director, LAMontagne worked closely with federal, state and local partners to develop regional and statewide response plans. These plans were put into action when responding to an ammonia leak at a cold storage facility located near a residential neighborhood. “Over the past decade, I have had the honor to help build a city operation that is able to respond, react or adjust quickly to an emergency. Whether its working with public health officials dealing with a flu epidemic or public services crews cutting tree limbs from power lines, the community should take comfort in knowing that a well organized and trained city is at the ready.”

LaMontagne helped spearhead efforts to improve relationships with surrounding communities, which led to the consolidation of dispatch services with South Portland Cape Elizabeth as well as securing a number of grants for regional efforts and training programs. These relationships along with partnerships forged with the US Coast Guard and other marine entities have helped improve the city’s response to emergencies whether on land or sea.

LaMontagne’s last day of service will be April 1, 2012. In the coming months, Rees will in consultation with Chief LaMontagne will develop a transition plan that will includea national search process for his replacement.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.