City leaders say new Norwich fire chief is fit for the job

Norwich — Tracy Montoya’s resume of qualifications to take the helm of the city’s paid fire department read like a recipe of desired ingredients: steady career advancements from the bottom to the top, physical fitness to compete in triathlons and even ultramarathons, and an important, intangible “ability to listen.”

Montoya, 54, a 27-year veteran Norwich firefighter, was sworn in as the city's new fire chief Thursday during a ceremony in the Council Chambers packed with fellow Norwich firefighters past and present, representatives from the volunteer departments and neighboring city departments, family members, city officials and supporters.

The New London Firefighters Pipes and Drums corps led the procession with a medley of patriotic tunes. Montoya's 16-year-old son, Christian, of Waterford pinned on his new chief’s badge. Montoya’s ex-wife, Annette Montoya; daughter, Bryn, 27; cousin Lynda Limon of Anchorage, Alaska, and aunt Dillia Sylvester of Isle Au Haut, Maine, stood nearby.

Montoya admitted he was overwhelmed by the attention, multiple standing ovations and words of praise. He thanked his family, friends, fellow firefighters, past chiefs, staff and city leaders for their support over the years and in his new position. He thanked retired Chief Kenneth Scandariato, who attended Thursday’s ceremony and promised he would be calling his predecessor for guidance at times.

“I think they make my job very easy,” Montoya said of past and present colleagues in the Norwich Fire Department. “They have as battalion chief. They did when I was a captain. They did when I was a lieutenant and as a firefighter. I’ve had constant guidance over the years. This wasn’t a solo journey. I’m not here on my own accord, I’m here because of the men and women that came before me. We have some retirees in the room, and the men and women that are serving now.”

Montoya joined the department as a firefighter in October 1991, was promoted to lieutenant in December 2001, to captain in July 2005 and became one of four battalion chiefs in 2007. He has commanded Platoon 1 for the past 11 years.

Montoya’s career in the U.S. Navy also has featured a steady stream of promotions, from his enlistment in the Navy and rise to commissioned ensign, to his shift to Naval Reserves and rise to his current rank of lieutenant commander at the Naval Reserves station in Newport, R.I.

Outside his career, he trains as a triathlete, including completing eight iron man triathlons — which comprise a 26.2-mile marathon, 112-mile bicycle race and 2.4-mile swim — and running in ultramarathons of 100 miles.

“So, you can imagine the tenacity that our new chief has,” City Manager John Salomone said.

Salomone said he got to know Montoya during the selection process for a new chief. Montoya was one of 19 applicants. Salomone said the process was “eye-opening and very comforting to me when I realized what an able employee we had in our midst.”

Montoya said a quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln would be a guide to him in his new leadership role: “Nearly all men can stand adversity. If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Montoya said the quote should be a “call to arms” to all city leaders, community leaders and all public servants at any level.

“That we do what’s right,” he said. “That we don’t take advantage of our position of power, that we serve our community, each other, with distinction and with honorable intentions. Again, if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. That is a call to all of us. And I don’t believe it stops just by designated position. I think as firefighters, you have the power, as well. ... From when we step off the trucks at calls, whether it’s an emergency or service related, we make a difference in people’s lives.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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