Craig Lemire, who followed his father and paternal grandfather into firefighting service 18 years ago, officially began working as chief of the Salem Fire Department on Jan. 14.
He’ll oversee one of the largest segments of town government — nearly 90 people and a budget of just under $16 million. The department, which received 6,210 calls for service last year, has three fire stations.
“I’m committed to the citizens and the town of Salem one hundred percent and all our employees,” said Lemire during a recent interview. “I look forward to working with the town leadership and the other department heads and I’m going to give all the effort that I can, do the very best I can.”
Lemire, 42, succeeds Larry Best, who retired last August. Perry Plummer, a consultant for Municipal Resources Inc., had served as interim chief.
Lemire, who is from Massachusetts, graduated from Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua in 1999. He majored in business management and played baseball at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2003.
He worked a sales job for six months, realizing he had no passion for it and wanted a job that meant something. He had a desire to serve people and be part of a team, so he started to seriously think about becoming a firefighter.
His father, Phil, was a firefighter in Lowell, Mass. Phil’s father, Robert, had been one, too.
Lemire and his sister, Kim, used to visit their dad at the fire station when they were kids. Lemire considers his father to be his hero – he admired him and what he had accomplished in his career – but his father had never pushed him to become a firefighter himself.
“He wanted me to make that decision on my own,” Lemire recalled. “When I approached him and said, ‘Listen, I think I want to be a firefighter,’ he was obviously very excited and said, ‘I’ll do everything I can to help you.’
“I always knew it was something I might want to do,” Lemire added. “But as a kid I was just so focused on playing baseball and soccer and basketball and my studies and getting good grades. Once I made that decision, it was full steam ahead.”
Through a contact his father had at the SFD, Lt. Russ Boland, Lemire met Kevin Breen, who at the time was the department’s assistant chief.
“I asked him, ‘What do I do to become a fireman?’ He told me the steps,” Lemire recalled.
Lemire eventually joined Salem’s Fire Department as a firefighter/EMT in October 2005. He graduated from the NH Fire Academy that year, and had worked at Patriot Ambulance in Lawrence and Dracut for about a year to gain experience as an EMT.
At the SFD, he was promoted to lieutenant in 2009, became a captain in 2016, and became a battalion chief in 2019.
Over the years, Lemire’s father, who spent 35 years in Lowell and retired as deputy fire chief, has given his son career advice.
“We have a very close relationship. I’m very fortunate to be able to call him at any moment and say, ‘This is going on, what do you think, have you ever run into this?’ That sort of thing,” said Lemire, who completed a leadership development program in 2019. “He motivated me to study, to get promoted. He’s always seen my potential. He’s great at keeping me humble and not letting me get a big ego. But he’s also good at kind of growing me, seeing when I’m down, when I need guidance, to step in. So, I’m fortunate.”
When Lemire was trying to start his career, obtaining a firefighter job was challenging. He had applied for two or three firefighter openings in other communities before successfully applying for an opening in Salem.
After working in Salem for several years, he was contacted about an opening at Lowell’s Fire Department. He had previously passed the Civil Service exam in Massachusetts.
Lemire considered the job in Lowell – his father worked there – but he decided instead to stay put. It was Salem’s Fire Department that had given him his first firefighting job and he loved working there and its people.
“I’m glad that I ended up here and this is where I am going to spend my entire career,” he said.
Lemire makes his home in Newburyport, Mass., with his wife, Kathryn, a Mass General Hospital nurse, and their three children: Jack, 6; Chase, 4; and Tess, 2.
When the fire chief opening was advertised, applications came from firefighting professionals on the East Coast to as far away as Florida, according to Town Manager Chris Dillon, who hired Lemire.
“The person the department and I wanted, and Salem needs, was already here,” Dillon said at Lemire’s swearing-in on Jan. 10, which was held two days after the Town Council confirmed the hiring.
“As the town manager, I was seeking someone that can take an amazing department and inspire them to take it to the next level. Challenge people to be the best they can be,” Dillon said.
As a leader who has spent most of his time on the department’s operations side, Lemire said, he’ll need to focus on learning more about the budgeting side of the chief’s job.
Lemire wants to promote a work environment where employees are well-trained and proficient, and feel safe, respected and part of a team; wants the public to understand what his department does; and wants to make sure increases in service call volume don’t mean longer response times.
“The quicker we can stop a flooding (at a) business, the quicker we can help someone who’s had a heart attack, the quicker we can get there to put a fire out, the better everyone’s going to be,” he said.
Lemire, who underwent two interviews before being selected for the top job, said he’s built strong relationships with the department’s members and enjoys a tremendous amount of support from them.
“I really think that I have the enthusiasm and excitement for the job that will help me succeed and help the department grow,” he said, adding that applying for the position was an opportunity he could not pass up. “I saw myself likely doing something like this. It did come up sooner than I was probably planning for. But you never know when these opportunities are going to come. I’m just going to do the best job I can.”