2015-11-06 / Community

South Portland fire chief retires; search on for replacement

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After 28 years on the job, South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond is calling it a career.

The department announced Guimond’s imminent departure in a press release issued Halloween night, citing an Oct. 28 resignation letter.

In that latter, Guimond, 49, said he had “been offered and accepted an exceptional opportunity to join Iberdrola corporate as a fire protection analyst.”

Iberdrola is the parent company of Central Maine Power.

Guimond leaves the fire department on a high note. Just two weeks ago he announced it had earned a Class 1 rating from the Insurance Services Office, a New Jersey-based firm whose work is used to set homeowner insurance rates nationwide. The new risk assessment puts the South Portland Fire Department in the Top 100 of more than 40,000 fire service agencies in the United States inspected by ISO.

“We wouldn’t be so successful without the great community support we’ve enjoyed over the years,” Guimond said Monday. “I’ve been very fortunate to have worked here and I think the next chief will feel just as fortunate. But I was just presented with a really good opportunity that was pretty hard to turn down. It was not an easy decision, but I think it was the right decision for my wife and I.”

This is the second time Guimond has retired. In 2012, he was approached by City Manager Jim Gailey, who offered to hire Guimond as a contract employee if he chose to retire. In an April 2014 interview, Gailey said giving Guimond the opportunity to retain his position while collecting earned benefits under the Maine Public Employees Retirement program was a way to keep the chief from jumping ship to Portland, which was in the market at the time for a new fire chief of its own.

The deal worked and Guimond never applied for the job.

Portland eventually hired Jerome LaMoria from the Emergency Management Office in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeMoria resigned in early October and now Portland once again has its feelers out for a new department head.

With both sides of the Fore River in the same boat, might Gailey work with his former assistant, Portland City Manager Jon Jennings, to hire one person to run both departments?

“We will have that discussion, as we are in that same spot, but at this point I can’t tell you where that will fall out,” Gailey said Monday. “We have two very different departments. But, yes, we will have that discussion.”

In the meantime, Gailey had nothing but praise for Guimond, who said the new job offer coincides with the expiration of the three-year contract he signed in 2012.

“Chief Guimond has given us a career full of successes and he will surely be missed,” Gailey said. “His professionalism, his character, his ability and knowledge in the fire service, they’re all off the charts.”

A Cape Elizabeth native — he lives in his grandparent’s house — Guimond grew up picking potatoes at Wainwright Farm, owned by his family. Today, that field is the town’s public athletic complex.

After initially working as a volunteer on the Cape Elizabeth Fire Department, Guimond joined the South Portland squad full time in 1987 when he was 20 years old. He quickly worked his way up through the ranks and became chief in 2003.

As Gailey notes, that was an important transitional time for fire departments everywhere and Guimond has been instrumental in shepherding South Portland into the modern age.

“He has brought his department through a very busy time,” Gailey said. “At the point when he became chief, we were still reeling from what happened in September of 2001, and the establishment of (the Department of) Homeland Security, and all that that brought with it. (He) really embraced that, worked diligently with his staff and really molded and created the outstanding fire department here in South Portland we have today.”

“I feel I am leaving this department in a better position than when I took it over, and I am proud of the men and women I have served with,” Guimond wrote in his resignation letter. “I have had the honor and pleasure of serving a great city, with the best firefighters and paramedics in the business.”

Guimond will take advantage of accumulated leave “over the next few months,” before officially retiring. His last active day as chief will be Nov. 20.

A reception will be held to celebrate Guimond’s career 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, in council chambers at city hall.

Gailey said Deputy Fire Chief Miles Haskell will lead the department until a new chief is hired.

“Miles has been around for 40-plus years and in a leadership role for most of that time,” Gailey said. “In passing the torch off to him as interim chief, I don’t think we’ll miss a beat.”

In South Portland, a civil service commission is involved in the hiring process for police officers and firefighters, including the chiefs. Although the final decision on a new chief will belong to Gailey, the screening process will be taken on by the seven-member commission, which will test and interview applicants, forwarding to Gailey a ranked list of qualified candidates.

There is no definitive date when a new chief is expected to be at the helm.

“We are working through the game plan and a timeline,” Gailey said.

Meanwhile, Guimond said he’s looking forward to getting more family time, something that’s been an increasingly sparse commodity over the past 13 years.

“Part of this, too, is that my daughter is in the seventh grade and I don’t want to miss the next few years with her,” he said. “I’m excited to have some more personal time and weekends off. The fire chief’s job is very demanding. You’re really on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It takes a lot out of your family time, covering nights, weekends and holidays.”

Guimond does not plan to leave the fire service entirely. In fact, he’s looking forward to returning to his roots, trading in his white helmet for a breathing mask as a volunteer firefighter in Cape Elizabeth.

“I love the fire service,” Guimond said. “I’m not leaving because I don’t like it. For some reason, God put me in this position and it’s been a fantastic experience that continues to this day. I can honestly say I feel like I have been able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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