Brunswick fire chief named tops in field by state association

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BRUNSWICK — Fire Chief Ken Brillant was named Fire Chief of the Year for 2016 at the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association Annual Meeting in Bangor on Oct. 5.

“I think Kenny’s an excellent choice,”  said Town Manager John Eldridge, who praised Brillant as a dedicated, collaborative public servant. “I really couldn’t think of anything but positives about Kenny.”

Brillant, 44, joined the department as a firefighter in 1992. After leaving the department in 2004 to serve as chief in Topsham, he returned to Brunswick to become chief in 2010.

Brillant also served as president of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association for the past two years. Just before receiving his award in Bangor last week, he passed the title on to Fairfield Chief Duane Bickford.

“I was very surprised,” he said last Friday of the honor.

As president, Brillant appointed the committee to choose the award recipient, but was not involved in the selection process.

“Having presented the last two awards, it does gives me quite a perspective into (that honor),” he said. “When you look at the list of other Chiefs of the Year, to be considered in that same group is a pretty big deal to me.” 

The Association’s members include 242 paid fire chiefs, but Brillant said there are over 400 fire chiefs in Maine.  Joining the association is not required.

Brillant’s commitment to fire prevention education distinguished him among his peers, especially his work in Brunswick schools. 

“We are actively involved in the fire drills at the schools,” he said. Brillant implemented the initiative when he became chief due to the challenge faced in organizing the safe evacuation of a large student body at the high school.

“We have seen a huge improvement,” he reflected.

In addition to fire drills, the department teaches basic fire prevention in the classroom. 

School programming “has been kind of a logistics struggle for any department, and we’re no exception to that,” Brillant said, referring to budgetary and personnel constraints, as well as the difficulty of scheduling with the schools.

During his tenure at Brunswick, the department has eliminated a position that was dedicated to prevention and education, and now relies on off-duty firefighters to take on the extra responsibilities.

Even so, Brillant thinks it’s important that those programs continue. He said it’s hard to prove the effectiveness of prevention programs – by nature, their success is marked by the absence of something going wrong – but “if (those programs) were to go away, at some point, we would start to see an increase in those issues.”

Brillant has also advocated for better training within the department. Recognizing that the department had the necessary staff and equipment, he spearheaded union negotiations to get the entire department certified to handle hazardous waste materials.

“My receiving this award has as much to do with them and their commitment to the job,” Brillant said of his department.

Local and municipal officials submit nominations for Chief of the Year based on an outstanding commitment to community involvement and outreach. This year, Town Manager John Eldridge, Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, Sen. Angus King,  I-Maine, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, and Brunswick Downtown Association’s Deborah King wrote letters supporting Brillant’s nomination.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brillant, right, was named Fire Chief of the Year for 2016 on Oct. 5 at the annual meeting of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association in Bangor.  Presenting the honor is Fairfield Chief Kenneth Santagata, who is also Brillant’s successor as president of the association.

Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.