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Fire chief steps down after 23 years in public safety

Feb 01, 2018 04:08AM ● Published by City Journals Staff

Marc McElreath stepped down as West Jordan Fire Chief at the end of 2017. He plans to take a year off before getting into the private sector. (West Jordan Fire Department Facebook)

Gallery: 23 years [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

It was 1998, and Firefighter Marc McElreath responded to an apartment fire. 

Two elderly people were on the third floor with their escape route compromised. Fire stood in their way. The only way out was through a window three stories up. 

With the help of his partner, McElreath rescued the couple from almost certain death. 

“That’s a one-call-in-your-career (experience) that you get, and I was fortunate enough to do that,” he said. 

Now 20 years later, McElreath is stepping down as West Jordan Fire Chief, a position he held since April 2010. Deputy Chief Clint Petersen will serve as Interim Fire Chief. 

“Losing Chief McElreath is a loss for the city,” said City Manager David Brickey in a press release. “But after his leadership, he is leaving the West Jordan Fire Department in a great position regarding public safety. We wish him the best and are confident Chief Petersen’s leadership will ensure a seamless transition.”

McElreath said he’s going to miss working with the firefighters.

“I felt very fortunate to have the quality of the employees that we had,” he said. “That sure made my job easier. West Jordan’s got a great fire department, and they’ll continue to do well.”

Being a chief for seven years is a long time, Petersen recalled hearing McElreath say. He felt the shelf life of a chief is probably around 5 to 7 years. McElreath said he was ready for a change, and the timing felt right with the department in a good place. 

“I worked in government and enjoyed it immensely,” he said. “West Jordan is a great place to work, but I want to test out the private sector. There are opportunities to do different types of things that involve my skillset I had being a fire chief.”

Petersen, a close friend of McElreath, said his former chief had an open-door policy with everyone. 

“He’s just a very likable guy,” Petersen said. “He just gets along with everyone. He’s really diplomatic—a really good boss to work for. He’s fair and firm when he needs to be.”

Petersen played a crucial role in McElreath’s introduction to public safety. 

Having served in the military, in the early ’90s McElreath was looking for a career. His dad worked part time with Salt Lake County Fire (now Unified Fire Department), sparking his interest to do a ride-a-long with a Taylorsville crew. Petersen was on that crew. 

McElreath enjoyed the dynamics of the job. He got to help people, every day was different and the schedule was appealing with 24-hour shifts followed by time off. 

In December 1994, McElreath joined West Jordan’s public safety team full time. The city has grown through those 23 years, eventually splitting public safety into separate police and fire departments in 2000. 

During the mid-’90s, the city’s public safety team required police and fire to be cross-trained with one another. McElreath spent time at the police academy and did the field training program; though never assigned to the police department, it did lead into doing arson investigation. He was the last person from West Jordan to be cross-trained. 

“It was a good thing for both departments because police work and firefighting each require specialized training, and it’s hard to be proficient in both disciplines,” he said in a press release. 

Seeing the department grow into a full-service department with 85 firefighters and four fire stations is something McElreath will proudly look back on. 

He remembered when West Jordan was perceived as a training ground, losing firefighters to other cities because of wages, equipment and deficiencies. The city began making changes in 2002, with council and resident support, that saw improvements in wages and equipment. It also led to a new fire station built in 2015. 

“Since then, we have not lost people like that; they came and made West Jordan their employer for their entire career,” McElreath said. “West Jordan has great facilities, great equipment and great people.”

He said the future of the department is “bright.” With the mentoring that takes place and the staff it has in place, he said there are plenty of people to step up. Even with the change in government, he doesn’t expect the department to suffer. 

“I don’t suspect they’ll miss a beat,” he said. “That’ll have no effect on delivery of service to the citizens. Eighty-five people are dedicated to provide the best service they can.”

McElreath, a North Carolina native who now lives in Taylorsville, plans to take a year off to spend time with his wife and two teenage daughters. He then intends to jump back in the work force with safety coordination, risk management and emergency management mentioned as possibilities. 

“I wish him the best of luck,” Petersen said. “I know he’ll be successful with whatever he does.” 

While Petersen currently serves as the interim chief, he is hopeful to be appointed to the position permanently. 

“I know the department, I know the guys; I think I’m a firefighter-type boss,” he said. 

Petersen joined the department in 2000 to help start the paramedic program after spending 21 years with Salt Lake County. 

Though he never had aspirations of being a fire chief do to the political side of the job, he’s sure he’ll learn the ropes. Petersen was named interim chief effective Jan. 1 with an expected timeline of 60120 days for when a permanent chief will be named. 

“Overall, he’s a great guy, good friend, and he’ll do a great job as the interim fire chief,” McElreath said. “If he’s appointed fire chief, West Jordan will be in good hands.” 

The duo’s friendship extends outside of work—they saw country music artist Gary Allan perform in January together—and into the competitive confines of golf.  

“He’s an OK golfer,” Petersen claimed. “I don’t think he’s ever beat me, and he tries real hard.”  

McElreath joked it’s because Petersen carries the scorecard with an eraser. “I’m sure his mind is very full of work stuff he’s got to do, so he might not recall the golf scores very accurately,” he said. 

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