ROCKLAND — The City of Rockland's new fire chief has been a firefighter with the city his entire 17-year career, and he comes from a Maine family in which fire service runs deep.
Veteran firefighter and emergency medical technician Chris Whytock , 37, has been appointed the city's new fire chief, effective June 1, according to Whytock.
His appointment to the position is expected to be confirmed by the Rockland City Council at its meeting on Monday, May 9.
"We are fortunate to have a dedicated, highly qualified and enthusiastic firefighter like Chris," said City Manager Jim Chaousis in a news release Thursday. "He is a team player that is willing to roll up his sleeves and help change Rockland for the better."
Whytock is a native of Dixfield, and went to Dirigo High School and Southern Maine Technical College. His grandfather was a fire chief in Mexico, his cousin is a firefighter in Rumford and his uncle just retired as deputy chief of the Mexico Fire Department.
"I have been preparing for a promotion for many years," said Whytock. "I think I reached a point where I was ready to make a change, and I knew other promotions were going to be coming available with the department, due to people retiring."
Whytock was hired by the Rockland Fire Department on Oct. 4, 1999, a week after his 20th birthday. During his tenure, Whytock said he had not held any leadership positions within the department, such as captain or lieutenant, but he has served as the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters local chapter and as a unit leader at Knox County EMS.
“I have always been a firefighter, I guess I skipped a few spots to get to chief,” said Whytock.
"I couldn't have asked to come into a better place," added Whytock, about starting out and staying with the city’s fire department. "I am where I am today because of the Adam Micelis and Ken Elwells, those officers that showed me and taught me how to do it. All the credit goes to my officers here, along with a couple good fire chiefs, family and leaders where I grew up, in Dixfield."
Whytock said he has had his sights honed in on being a firefighter since he was young.
"Firefighting is in my family blood and I never wanted to do anything but be a firefighter," he said.
The chief's position at the fire department has been on temporary hold since former chief Charlie Jordan retired May 1, 2014. After Jordan left, the city kept his position open to save money, but also while it explored the merits of creating a public safety director position that would combine the roles of police chief and fire chief. During that second year of research, former deputy chief Adam Miceli under Jordan agreed to continue to fill in as interim chief following Jordan's retirement. Miceli previously said he had no desire to eventually become the chief, and did not apply for the position this spring.
Rockland Police Bruce Boucher said that he was part of a small committee, with Tom Luttrell, which did research into the public safety director position's potential, and found that while it could be done, as it currently is in the communities of Hampden and Old Town, the cost savings were moot.
"The position itself would require an increase in pay over what the current police and fire chiefs are paid, due to the added responsibility, and then the deputy chiefs in both departments would see pay increases due to their added responsibilities," said Boucher. "And the Rockland Fire Department has three deputy chiefs, so that would really be a big change in terms of pay increases."
Boucher said that since saving cost wasn't the lone factor in exploring the merits of a new public safety director position for the city, they decided to explore further and look at the question of increasing efficiency.
During the summer of 2015, three members of the Maine Chiefs of Police came to the city to evaluate it, and Boucher said two of the three were current public safety directors, with the third a former public safety director.
"They said the same thing we found, that it's not going to save much money," said Boucher. "But also a public safety director's job is much different than a fire chief's and a police chief's job, and there is a lot of training and certification that goes into being able to do both jobs."
Boucher said once they presented their findings to city officials, they didn't see or hear any more direction, so the idea died.
Over the past two years, and especially since last October and November, Whytock said he has been waiting to see if the city would fund the fire chief's position, and keep reading up and preparing for the job should it become available.
Now that he has the job and looking back on what he's seen happening in the city in recent years, since he moved here with his family and bought a home in 2006, Whytock said he is excited about the future.
"The city outlook for the long term is positive, and I wanted to be a part of that and lead this great group of men and women here and bring them up too," said Whytock.
"We have the possibility to have a lot of our officers, all of them, retire within five years. That's a lot of experience and knowledge that has the possibility of leaving. And for me, I am looking into secession planning for when people and other leaders look to retire. We all do plenty of training and we are good at it, but keeping that in mind, that turnover is inevitable, my job will be to make sure we have the right people in place to step up," said Whytock.
Part of the preparation for "moving up" is training. And Whytock said they need to continue to do as much of it as they can to make sure that when the current leaders decide to move on, those filling their boots are "at their best here."
He also hopes to find a way to bolster the department's dwindling call division, which is a problem in fire departments around the state. Nobody has found the magic bullet solution, but he hopes they can find a way to supplement the quality people they currently have.
Whytock and his wife, Sarah, live in Rockland with their two children, a boy and a girl. He said they previously lived in Thomaston but made the commitment to buy a house in Rockland with an eye on his future at the fire department.
"We made the move in hopes I would be sitting where I am at this point now. Being able to pay taxes where I work is showing people I am in it with them," said Whytock.
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