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Glenwood's New Fire Chief Stressing 'Pride, Ownership'

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Matt Gray Replacing Retiring Chief Butch Fidler

By Joe Foreman, Editor

From the day he joined the Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department 24 years ago, Matt Gray has had the ambition to work his way up the ladder to the position of chief. That ambition became a reality last week when he was sworn in by mayor Ron Kohn to replace outgoing chief Butch Fidler, who is retiring on Dec. 31.

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“I have had a lot of training in fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) and it’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind since I started,” Gray said during an interview last week. “You want to move up. I think with the training and knowledge that I have and the network system that I’ve made, I’m ready and qualified for the position.”

Gray, a 1992 graduate of Glenwood Community High School, has a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency management from Purdue University Global and an associate’s degree in fire science from Iowa Western Community College. He’s nationally certified as a Firefighter I and Firefighter II and also has certified training in hazardous materials operations, fire services instruction, EMT and juvenile fire setter intervention.

During his time with the Glenwood department, Gray has assumed several leadership roles. He’s spent the last decade as a captain and served as a lieutenant before that. He’s a past president and vice president of the Glenwood Fire Assocation.

In recent years, Gray has served a liaison between GVFD and the Glenwood City Council and he’s taken on grant-writing responsibilities that have helped fund equipment and bunker gear for the department. Gray has helped secure a $500,000 SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that was created to provide funding directly to local fire departments to help increase or maintain the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. In the past two years, Gray has written grants that have brought nearly $70,000 to the department for the purchase of bunker gear, air packs and other firefighting and medical equipment.

Gray takes over a department that’s experienced its ups and downs in recent years when it comes to firefighter retention and morale, but he believes the organization is moving in the right direction.

“For awhile there, I think the sense of pride was lost,” he said. “But, there seems to be more of a cultural change – more pride and better overall attitude. There’s more stability and better morale within the department. We’ve been pushing for the membership to take pride and ownership in what they’re doing.”

The 21-member department has a mix of young and veteran firefighters. Safety and firefighter training are top priorities for Gray.

“As the chief, you’re responsible for the safety of your firefighters,” he said. ‘I don’t want to send them into a fire without adequate training and equipment that’s going to keep them safe.”

Gray said he’s inserting policy and procedures that will bring more structure to the department.

He’s coming aboard as chief at a time when the department is facing crucial equipment and facilities needs that could create some future financial challenges for the department and city. Glenwood’s metal-framed fire station was built in the 1970s and is showing wear and tear. The department wants to replace its aerial and tanker trucks and some of its fire hoses are more than 35 years old.

“There’s a lot of things that need to be done, but it’s going to take time,” Gray said.  “I’d like to get the equipment in first, just for the firefighting safety issue. A lot of our equipment is aged and it’s also a liability issue.”

Gray noted that the ladder on the department’s current aerial truck is 65 feet, not long enough to battle a blaze on many of the Town Square buildings or local churches. He says a minimum 100-foot ladder is needed. Glenwood’s tanker truck is a refurbished fuel truck acquired from the U.S. Air Force. The tanker has several safety issues, Gray said.

Glenwood Fire and Rescue responds to about 2,000 calls a year, including many outside the city limits. Gray said industrial and business development taking place near the Interstate 29 – Highway 34 interchange will put more demand on the department.

Gray said he’s looking forward to his new challenges as chief and is appreciative of the knowledge he’s acquired from previous chiefs and firefighters he’s served with over the past 24 years.