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Murray Journal

New Zealand lures Murray Fire Chief away

Feb 22, 2022 09:35PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Retired Murray Fire Chief Jon Harris will become a New Zealand fire service advisor. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Trading Murray for Māori, Fire Chief Jon Harris retired Feb. 15 from the department he has led since 2018. However, Harris won’t be heading into the proverbial sunset, but quite literally to the globe’s other hemisphere as an advisor to the New Zealand government.

“I started reaching out to members of the fire service over a year ago with the hope that I could eventually work there,” Harris said. “I spent the last year taking classes and getting certifications recognized in NZ so I would be more employable. I was lucky enough to hear from one of my contacts that there was a job opening. I interviewed over Zoom and was fortunate enough to secure a job offer with Fire and Emergency New Zealand.”

Harris’s official position will be as a National Infrastructure Advisor. Essentially, he will visit major construction projects throughout the country and help the fire service to develop tactical plans on how to respond.

While his stint as chief was relatively short, it was certainly eventful. Half of his tenure was spent addressing the pandemic. Aside from that, he oversaw the construction of Fire Station 81, the new 23,000-square-foot building that will serve as the new fire department command center. The station’s finishing touches include Harris’s hand-carved conference table and fireman statue.

In 1995, Harris began his career with the Murray Fire Department. Before that, he served over two years in the Eagle River Fire Protection District (ERFPD) outside Vail, Colorado.

As chief, he supervised the creation of the wildland program. As he explained, “We were able to increase our wildland deployment ability, which allowed us to help out many communities in need.”

Murray FD has responded to support large wildfire operations with its wildland truck in California, Oregon and Colorado. These states reimburse Murray for the cost of the deployment; otherwise, the truck can be used for incidents that might happen on the Jordan River Parkway.

Harris also developed a new compensation step plan with Murray City and the Firefighter Union.

“With the input of all my chief officers, I was able to develop a five-year Strategic Plan that set the direction for the department while I was chief,” Harris said.

While Harris did secure better pay and a building for his department, he admits replacing gear or an apparatus was not the most challenging part of being chief.

“I take a personal interest in all my employees and want to see them all succeed. It is hard when you have to initiate discipline or when you see them struggling with personal issues,” Harris said.

Harris believes not only is it important to get firefighters the proper gear, but to take care of them mentally as well. As a result, Harris secured a new budget line for funds allocated to counseling and other programs.

Will Harris stay in New Zealand once he permanently retires?

“We will have to see how well we fit in; but yes, I could see my wife and me retiring in NZ,” Harris said. “We would still visit the states often though, to see family. NZ is truly an amazing place with magnificent natural landscapes, friendly people, and a great work/life balance. They are the second safest country in the world, and their socialized healthcare system is very highly ranked.”

Fire Marshal Joey Mittelman will be promoted as the new fire chief. Harris leaves some words of advice for him: “Personnel are your greatest asset. Surround yourself with great people and give them the freedom to excel. Meet often with the crews so you don’t lose touch with them. Be patient. Take your time to do research before jumping to conclusions or making big decisions,” Harris said.