Ferndale Fire Chief Jack Pesha rose through the ranks over 20 years, but is retiring to take another job as a fire marshal in Birmingham.
“I was going to stay another four to five years,” he said. “But this other opportunity opened up and I put in my retirement papers. I’ve really enjoyed working with everybody in the department and in the community.”
Pesha’s retirement is effective Nov. 21 and Fire Marshal Dennis Barr will step in as interim fire chief until a new chief is named.
The city has hired a consulting firm, GovHR, to do a national search for the next fire chief and is also accepting applications from current fire department employees, said City Manager Joseph Gacioch.
An application for the job is on the city website at ferndalemi.gov/jobs/fire-chief and lists job candidate requirements and a pay range of $92,000 to $115,000.
“Jack has done a tremendous job and really built an excellent culture at the firehouse,” Gacioch said. “One of his main focuses has been bridging the department’s relationships with the community and City Hall.”
Pesha acknowledged his pending departure has one bittersweet aspect.
“Being in the fire service you end up living in the fire hall over 100 days a year,” he said, “so it’s like a second home. The community in general is pretty tight-knit and so is the fire department. I’ll miss the friendships and camaraderie I’ve built over the years.“
Being a firefighter forges bonds common to those who have been through potentially fatal experiences together.
Pesha was a firefighter medic in May 2012 when a vast fire fueled by animal fat broke out at Van Industries, blazing for hours and billowing smoke that could be seen from miles away.
The company, in the 1200 block of Wordsworth, makes rubbing compounds for finishing metals and animal fat is a major ingredient.
Described at the time as massive grease fire, Pesha recalled when firefighters first entered the building to attack the blaze, but had to retreat.
“It got out of control,” he said. “A propane take 20 feet away exploded and it blew out all the windows. It was like something from a movie and we had to get out. Within 30 seconds the roof caved in. That’s one I’ll never forget. The building was a total loss.”
Pesha was named fire chief after serving as interim chief in 2018 following the retirement of Chief Kevin Sullivan.
“I really enjoyed the way our department shaped up in the last few years where we had the opportunity to develop our careers and continue our training,” Pesha said. “Chief Sullivan started that.”
Gacioch expects city officials will complete a review of candidates and name a new fire chief within three to four months.