Missoula Mayor John Engen and City Council members quickly confirmed Jeff Brandt as the new fire chief on Wednesday, commending his boundless energy and commitment to public service.
Several made special mention of his long hours, patience and leadership during this year’s floods on the Clark Fork River.
“Those of you who have any experience with Jeff know that he is a born leader with tremendous energy, compassion and a deeply held belief in public service,” Engen said during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee. “Jeff’s most recent efforts in helping the city side of coordinating flood response I think is evidence of his skill, leadership and abilities.”
Brandt, who has been the department’s assistant chief of operations for the past six years, takes the helm from Fire Chief Jason Diehl, who retired in June.
Committee members added their praise for Brandt’s service, with Ward 4 Councilman Jesse Ramos telling of Brandt’s availability as operations manager during floods in the Orchard Homes neighborhood, Clinton and Seeley Lake.
“I know during the floods, he kept me up to date on all the flooding that was going on and he kept me informed at all hours of the night and he was available all hours of the night,” Ramos said. “People truly felt comfortable with Brandt in charge when they were losing their livelihoods and their homes in the flooding.”
Now comes the flood recovery, Brandt said in an interview. The initial response, he said, was a collective effort of city and county departments, the National Weather Service and the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management – all working to move the response safely forward toward recovery.
After thanking the council for their support, Brandt quickly got to work, moving to the next matter on the agenda: Requesting authorization for the mayor to sign a 2019 interlocal agreement with the Montana Firefighters Testing Consortium.
The new agreement adds Havre to the statewide firefighter training network and was approved by council members.
Missoula and 10 other cities collectively provide a testing process – both physical and written – for rookie firefighters. Administered once a year, the test (if passed) allows firefighters to apply to any of the 11 cities.
The consortium is vital to ensuring the fire department operates efficiently, Brandt said.
“I’m very tasked oriented and most fire department folks are,” Brandt said in an interview after the meeting. “I live off a list, and I need things checked off daily so we bring that energy into every aspect of the fire department.”
Brandt plans to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, praising Diehl as a great mentor who ensured that his firefighters were safe and had the equipment and tools needed to help the public.
Just approved by the council, a new response rig will be purchased to relieve pressure as Missoula grows toward North Reserve Street and the airport.
Brandt said the department will do a lot of “forward thinking” to ensure it meets the needs of the public.
“We will continue to work on projects, work on our planning, and making sure our firefighters’ safety and health comes first,” Brandt said. “Our second objective, of course, is to give them the time and training to carry out those duties, and from there, that conduit goes to what the public needs and how do we address that service as the community continues to grow.”
Brandt was born and raised in Lewistown, working and volunteering for the fire department there at age 15. He worked as a firefighter with the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard, serving three years overseas, and moved to Missoula in 1992. He has been with the Missoula Fire Department for 26 years.