The latest in a period of big transition in Portland: Smith to serve as acting fire chief

Name a top position in Portland city government and there’s a good bet the job has changed hands within the past year or will soon.

Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Smith

Today, City Manager Mark Rees (who took the job last summer) announced his choice of Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Smith to serve as acting chief when current Fire Chief Frederick LaMontagne retires on April 1.

Smith follows on the path laid out by Michael Sauschuck, who was sworn in as the new police chief yesterday after holding the position on an interim basis for more than six months and besting a field of dozens of applicants.

Last fall, Michael Brennan was elected to a four-year term as the new mayor of the city, not long after Rees tapped former Portland Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell to step into the director of planning and urban development position vacated by Penny St. Louis.

Assistant City Manager — and former acting city manager — Patricia Finnegan left Portland in late September to become the next Camden town manager. Anita LaChance is still listed in one of the two assistant city manager positions on the Portland city website, but Finnegan’s job is listed as still vacant.

Superintendent of Schools James Morse is leaving the district in June and taking a job as the top administrator for the Oyster River School District in Durham, N.H., and the Portland school committee is in process of searching for his successor.

Now that you’ve got a rundown of all the moving pieces in and around City Hall, here’s a little more about Smith, as provided in an announcement by the city today:

Born and raised in Portland, Smith joined the Fire Department in 1975. In 2002, he was promoted from Captain to Deputy Chief. In 2008, Smith was tasked with managing the department’s Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction Team and he successfully led the department’s response to an ammonia leak in a residential neighborhood and a chemical spill at the Wastewater Treatment Facility last fall.

“I am incredibly appreciative of Deputy Chief Smith’s willingness to lead the Fire Department through this transition,” stated City Manager Rees. “Steve brings more than thirty years of experience and a deep held commitment to the City of Portland. He knows the department well and I am confident the community will benefit from his leadership over the coming months.”

And, from the same announcement, some information on the search for LaMontagne’s permanent replacement:

Qualified candidates for Fire Chief are encouraged to submit applications to the city by April 6, 2012. Following a review of submissions, selected candidates will be invited to be interviewed by city staff and community members as well as submit to an Assessment Center. The Assessment Center will evaluate candidates through a series of exercises. The results from the interviews and assessment center will help inform the City Manager as he makes his final determination for Fire Chief.

Qualified candidates must have a comprehensive understanding of the Fire Department’s divisions and various operations and extensive knowledge of best practices including an ability to balance the increasing needs for emergency medical services with fire suppression, oversee emergency management for the city, and deliver high quality services with limited resources. The candidate should bring a high degree of professionalism, and proven leadership abilities to the job, and possess the highest degree of integrity, honesty, fairness, and morals. He or she should also be able to manage all aspects of municipal budgets, apply changes as necessary, seek additional resources, and stay on top of technological advancements.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

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