‘Accidental’ firefighter: Departing South Portland chief looks to next chapter

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SOUTH PORTLAND — When Kevin Guimond became a city firefighter at age 20 he wasn’t necessarily expecting to be in the profession for the next three decades.

At age 49, now-Fire Chief Guimond is preparing to hang up his helmet at the end of this month.

Over the weekend, Guimond announced he would be taking a new position in Augusta as fire protection analyst for Iberdrola, the parent company of Central Maine Power Co. Deputy Fire Chief Miles Haskell will replace Guimond as acting chief until a full-time replacement is found.

Guimond is a Cape Elizabeth native. His great-grandfather, George Wainwright, was a charter member of the Cape Elizabeth Fire Department who farmed potatoes on land formerly known as Wainwright Farms, now the Wainwright Recreation Complex.

In high school Guimond recalled, while picking potatoes in the field one afternoon, he was approached by an older farmer who encouraged him to join the Fire Department as a volunteer.

“I kind of fell in by accident,” Guimond said Tuesday in his office. He became a firefighter with three other friends, two of whom went to the Portland Fire Department. The other joined him in South Portland.

In 1990, three years after he started, Guimond became a paramedic. He said he “really fell in love with it.”

Guimond became chief of the department in 2003. Since then, he has been on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for the occasional vacation day, he said. And while he loves what he does, he’s also excited to shut his radio off for good.

But working with the Fire Department for so many years has allowed Guimond to integrate himself into the community in a way that he will miss.

“I love going to the hardware store or the grocery store and having six people stop and ask me questions. I’m going to miss that. The people here are phenomenal. That sense of community will be missed,” he said.

“South Portland has changed a lot,” he continued. “On some faces it’s a big city, and on others it more resembles a small town. It’s a big little town.”

With his son in his freshman year at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, and his daughter in the seventh grade at Cape Elizabeth Middle School, Guimond is anxious to move on to the next phase of his personal and professional life.

“I don’t want to be 74 years old and look back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I never did that,'” he said. “I want to do new things while I’m still young enough to do them.”

Guimond’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“His knowledge of the fire service and his desire to always looking to better his department through training, equipment and/or technology has played huge dividends for the South Portland community,” City Manager Jim Gailey said Wednesday.

During his time as chief, Guimond oversaw the opening of the Western Avenue Fire Station in 2004. The department has also doubled the number of paramedics, and now 75 percent of all employees are licensed Emergency Medical Technicians.

“Kevin assumed the chief position at a time that the fire service was in a bit of transformation due to the new Homeland Security requirements and funding coming into communities,” Gailey said.

“Responsibilities and threats took on a new heightened role after Sept. 11 for the fire service nationwide, and South Portland quickly made the transformation and became a regional leader,” he said. “Chief Guimond has been a huge asset to this community and will surely be missed.”

Earlier this week, the department also received its Class 1 Insurance Services Office rating. The department is the first in Maine and New Hampshire to earn the rating, which is based on a fire department’s specific capabilities, and help determine homeowner insurance premiums.

Because South Portland ranked the highest, Guimond said, “our homeowners’ insurance should be more reasonable. It will take effect in 2016, and most people should see a 1 to 4 percent reduction in their homeowner’s premium.”

After he takes a break, Guimond hopes to go back to volunteer firefighting in Cape Elizabeth.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, this is the best job in the state of Maine. This is a great department, we have unbelievable people; they do great things every day,” he said.

“I’m happy. I want to leave and park this part of my life and say, ‘It was the best, it was great, now let’s go see what’s next.'”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond, in the office he has occupied since 2003. Guimond will leave the position at the end of November.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.