For Michael Grant, New Haven’s new fire chief, firefighting has been a lifelong passion — a passion so strong that at the age of 14, he misrepresented his age in order to become a firefighter.
Grant, the Fire Department’s 15th chief, had previously served as assistant chief of operations. The position became available after Dennis Daniels, the previous chief, resigned on Dec. 12.
Karen DuBois-Walton, the city’s chief administrative officer and the chairwoman of the search committee for the new fire chief, said Grant’s experience and the other firefighters’ respect for him were two of the primary reasons for his selection.
“I think that the respect the rank-and-file feel for him are going to go a long way,” DuBois-Walton said.
At Monday’s ceremony, remarks from members of the Fire Department demonstrated this esteem. Robert Foster, a New Haven firefighter, called Grant “one of the top firefighters on the job.”
Grant, who joined the Fire Department in 1972, has received the Medal of Valor, the department’s second-highest award. During his career, he was also the recipient of four Medals of Merit and 23 unit citations.
Grant served as drillmaster at the fire academy from 1984 to 1996 and said he is planning to rely heavily on the firefighters he trained there.
“There’s a lot of smart fire officers and firefighters out there,” Grant said.
George Longyear, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said he was impressed by the way Grant never stumbled or hesitated when questioned about the department.
“He knows the department from A to Z,” Longyear said.
Grant said he faces a number of challenges as chief, including the operational issues that firefighters must now confront in the “new era” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to the department’s Web site, when Grant was assistant chief, he organized New Haven’s team for responding to hazardous materials.
In a speech at the swearing-in ceremony, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. also stressed the department’s role in responding to terrorist incidents.
“Clearly the burden of leadership is going to fall on the Fire Department,” DeStefano said.
Grant also focused on enhancing the department’s ability to provide emergency medical services, confronting the budget crisis, reducing firefighter injuries, and promoting fire prevention. In the face of these challenges, however, Grant seemed confident that his department is up to the challenge.
“There isn’t a fire department in this country that matches what we can do in the city of New Haven,” Grant said.
DeStefano, who interviewed six candidates for the position, said he was impressed by all of them but felt Grant was the “clear choice” in the end.
“I felt good about what I saw in the Fire Department,” DeStefano said.
Grant praised the individuals who helped him reach his new position, including DeStefano and the fire chiefs he served under during his career. He reserved special praise for Daniels, whom he said helped him learn the ropes when he first moved into administration.
“Dennis sort of steered me and guided me through,” Grant said.
Grant also acknowledged Ron Dumas, the department’s executive officer who had been serving as acting chief since Daniels’ resignation and was one of the other candidates for the office.
“Ron and I are the team,” Grant said. “He’s my right-hand man.”