California City Names New Fire Chief

A veteran fire administrator has been hired out of retirement to lead the Salinas Fire Department.

Ed Montez, 52, was named the new fire chief Wednesday by City Manager Dave Mora. Montez has been the interim chief, filling in for the past several weeks after the departure of former chief Dan Hernandez.

"It will be a seamless transition," said Mora.

Montez worked for Salinas for seven years until 1997, when he was hired as chief of the Redwood City department. He retired two years ago and was living in Hawaii until a family situation forced him to return to California.

"When Mr. Mora got word I was relocating, he asked me to be the interim chief," Montez said.

He said he was also encouraged to apply for the permanent job.

By that time, the recruitment process was well under way, but Montez' experience as a chief and his knowledge of Salinas won the day, said Andrew McLaughlin, president of the union representing firefighters. McLaughlin was involved in the interview process of recruits.

"I think it might work out to the benefit of the city," McLaughlin added. "He's been a chief, he knows the community and the players. He seems to be intelligent and he has a good approach with interpersonal skills."

Montez was a deputy chief in the Salinas department before leaving for Redwood City, but was originally hired as a division chief and fire marshal.

Mora said Montez will earn $133,668 annually.

He also said the new chief is now working with administrators at the Public Employees Retirement System to "extract himself" from retirement benefits.

Montez said his department will have to deal with the loss of experienced leaders in the 92-person department late next year, when at least a dozen longtime firefighters are expected to retire.

"They have a great deal of experience and knowledge and it will be my responsibility to get people trained to fill those positions," Montez said.

Montez also said he will work with other city officials and firefighters to retain the city's paramedic program, which has been threatened because of citywide budget problems. Firefighters have agreed to reductions through November to keep the program alive, "but we need to work through what happens after November," Montez said.

Hernandez was the fire chief in Salinas for five years and often was at odds with firefighters and the union.

"We're hoping the new chief lives up to the goals he's stated to us," said McLaughlin. "The firefighters are desperately looking for a leader."