Chief Jon Kiernan has worked as captain and training officer in a fire department (Enid, OK) with 80 employees across five fire stations in a city of 50,000. And he’s worked as chief of a fire department of only 3 additional paid staff, 15 volunteers, and a hand-me-down fire engine, serving an 800-person tribe (Iowa Tribe, Perkins, OK.)
He says they weren’t that different.
“I have found that most fire departments are very similar. You have the same types of personalities and mind set,” says the chief. “The fire service is filled with amazing people who genuinely love what they do. On an all-paid department, you typically have more resources available quickly to respond, but the same degree of professionalism and dedication are found in both paid and volunteer departments.”
It’s the sense of mission and camaraderie that is created when people work together for a critical purpose that drew Kiernan to firefighting around 20 years ago, when he retired from the Army as an E4/Medic to be home with his family of five boys.
With the Enid Fire Department, Kiernan developed expertise in ropes rescue – (“It doesn’t come up often” he says, “but when it does, you need people who know what they are doing,” and cites recent stories on national news of a truck dangling by its bumper off a bridge, and men hanging on to cables from a broken window-washing platform on the side of a skyscraper.) He followed the program of firefighter education, eventually becoming an instructor and tester for Autry Technical Center and the Oklahoma Institute Fire Program. In a city boasting the third largest grain storage capacity in the world, as well as oil and propane works, hazardous materials were a large and constant danger. “In Oklahoma, people created meth labs in their cars,” he said, so a car accident could literally blow up into an inferno.
He left the Enid Fire Department to work with now-grown sons for a couple of years as they started a property-management business. When he went back to firefighting, it was with the small Iowa Tribe. “There weren’t many calls, and it was mostly grass fires,” he recalls. But his ability to work in and with the community was a real highlight of the job. He says he would meet regularly with the tribal elders, keeping them informed, and also running educational seminars on topics like diabetes and other health issues. “I was really impressed with how the tribe treated the elders,” he recalls.
Now divorced, with four boys successfully launched and the fifth in his final year of college, Kiernan said he was looking for a new place and a new opportunity, and believes he’s found them here in New Gloucester.
“I was looking for a department that had a strong history of serving its community,” he explains, “and when I spoke with the personnel here, I could tell they have a lot of pride in what they do.”
Kiernan has read the report from the study of the NG Fire & Rescue done two years ago by outside consultants, and agrees with the basic analysis and recommendations. The issue of recruiting and retaining a volunteer call roster is facing 80% of fire departments across the country, he notes, and it is the most important issue facing New Gloucester. Kiernan says he will be looking for ways to make local firefighting more attractive, with more public acknowledgment of the growth and success of both the department and individual firefighters, and partnerships with various community groups. One thing he would like to put in place for next winter, he says, is a service to help the elderly and disabled keep their walkways open and sanded for safe egress. In the meantime, he notes, if anyone needs advice – or a hand – installing a smoke detector or fire extinguisher, give him a call.
Kiernan and his 4 year-old Burmese-Mountain-Dog-and-something, Sasha, have just moved into a “little house in the woods” here in town. He says he has always wanted to come to Maine, and looks forward to exploring as time allows. He’s happy to be away from poisonous snakes and tornadoes. He has heard about Lyme disease and black flies, though not about the brown-tailed moths. He was happily surprised at just how beautiful the town is, admiring particularly the town buildings in the Lower Village. As a history-buff and big reader, he also looks forward to the opening of the New Gloucester Public Library.