Rich Kindelan, Scarborough’s new fire chief, has spent 28 years in fire and emergency services. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

The biggest challenge Rich Kindelan faces as Scarborough’s new fire chief is staffing, he says.

A career in firefighting has “become a little less glamorous because of the transition to mostly emergency medical service calls,” said Kindelan, who most recently was the department’s deputy chief of EMS. “We don’t go to fires every day anymore.”

Scarborough responded to 1,307 fire calls and 3,360 EMS calls in 2021. Fire calls are considered “anything that does not require patient care,” according to Kindelan, including responding to alarms, smells and car crashes without injuries.

For about the past 10 years, the department has been trying to shift from a heavy reliance on volunteer call members to full time staffing, said Town Manager Tom Hall. That’s not always easy when there’s a shortage of applicants.

“Most departments in Maine actually rely on their call division,” Hall said.

Scarborough has just 50 call members and approximately 60 per-diem staff members in addition to their 32 full-time workers.

When outgoing Chief Michael Thurlow joined the department in the 1970s, he said, it had more than 300 call members. Thurlow is stepping down Friday after nearly 46 years of service in Scarborough, 20 as chief. He agrees that staffing is a challenge.

It hasn’t always been that way, Kindelan said.

“I’d sit in a cafeteria at a high school with two or three hundred people for one position when I was starting to look for a fire job,” he said. “Now, we’re lucky if we get 10 to show up for any type of position … It seems less and less likely for people to be able to come in the door and take these jobs.”

The department is fully staffed now, but as the number of call members dwindles and future vacancies are inevitable, the shortage of applicants will have an impact.

Kindelan said the department also will need to grow along with the town. Scarborough’s population went from 18,919 to 22,135 between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census.

Employees’ mental health is also something Kindelan places importance on.

“These last couple years have been really really tough on some people, and we’ve seen the need for additional mental health services,” he said, noting that check-ins and a peer-support program are existing strong tools. “We need to make sure we keep a really good eye on the mental health needs of our workforce systemwide, not just here in Scarborough.”

Kindelan is the right man for the job, Thurlow said.

“Rich is just a great individual,” said Thurlow. “When I hired him, I knew that this day was coming.”

Kindelan has been with the department for three years as the deputy chief of EMS, which makes up just a fraction of his 28-year career in fire and emergency services.

“My grandfather, when I was 4 years old, would take me to a local fire station in the city of New Britain, Connecticut, where I grew up,” he said. “We would go there and spend Saturdays at the fire station and I fell in love with it.”

Kindelan started as a junior volunteer in Connecticut when he was 16 before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force straight out of high school where he was a fire protection specialist. After working his way up the ranks in civilian firefighting, becoming a captain in Gardiner and a deputy chief in Yarmouth, he then served Old Orchard Beach before making his way to Scarborough.

“The only name recommended to me through the first round of interviews was an internal candidate, Rich Kindelan,” said Hall. “He’s just got a tremendous way about him. I know he has the respect of the staff.”

In addition to Kidnelan’s nearly 30 years of experience, his performance as Scarborough’s deputy chief of EMS was impressive, Hall said.

“The whole pandemic gave Rich an opportunity to shine, in my eyes,” he said.  “He very quickly become our resident expert.”

Kindelan said he is “fortunate” to have been able to work with Thurlow and that even before he joined the Scarborough Fire Department three years ago, he looked up to the longtime chief.

“The things that we see that he’s done here are just a small fraction of the accomplishments he’s had in our system statewide,” he said. “We’d regularly turn to Chief Thurlow for initiatives that he has done. He was really a forward-thinker.”

Thurlow has set Kindelan up to succeed, Hall said.

“He’s worked really hard to make a very professional organization and has left tremendous legacy systems that Rich will be able to adopt and run with right out of the gate,” he said.

Kindelan agreed.

“I was fortunate to be left with something that doesn’t have a ton of outstanding threads out there that we need to fix.”

Thurlow and former long-time Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton worked in tandem over their lengthy public service careers, which Hall stated “doesn’t happen everywhere.” Now, with Kindelan and new Police Chief Mark Holmquist taking the reins, Hall hopes they can continue that legacy of cooperation.

“We have Mark and Rich starting off together, and I think both have said to me countless times of this theory of shared space and shared culture,” said Hall. “When we built this new (public safety) building, we wanted to make sure it housed both those operations.”

Kindelan is ready to get going.

“I’m really excited to be able to take on this opportunity,” he said. “I really do look forward to taking the department to the next level.”

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