BRATTLEBORO -- Jerry LaMoria, who as a kid kicked around the Brattleboro Fire Department in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will soon be taking over the Portland, Maine, Fire Department.
"I wasn't looking for the job," said LaMoria, from his home in Maryland. LaMoria had recently retired from the Prince George's County, Maryland, Fire/EMS Department and was working for the county's homeland security division when he and his wife took one of their annual trips to Small Point, Maine, this past summer.
"Then news came out that the city was reopening the search and the wife and I decided we wanted to try it and see what it would lead to," he said.
They visited Portland and took a schooner ride on Casco Bay before making the decision to apply for the job.
"We said, ‘Let's just do this and see what happens,'" said LaMoria. "This seems to be a great thing for us."
After an exhaustive interview process, LaMoria was recommended by the Portland city manager to the city's council. LaMoria is expected to start the job in January.
LaMoria, who graduated from Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend in 1980, started as an on-call firefighter in Brattleboro when he was 16. He also worked with the NewBrook Volunteer Fire Department, where his dad, Norm, was the chief for about four years.
"I was never a paid firefighter in Vermont," he said.
In 1983, LaMoria moved to Maryland, where he and his wife raised three kids.
Now that their kids are all grown up and have flown the nest, LaMoria and his wife thought it might be nice to move back to New England.
"We've talked about this a lot over the years," he said.
LaMoria was the deputy fire chief at Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department, which has a coverage area of 500 square miles where 800,000 people live. He spent 26 years there working his way up through the ranks.
"The hardest aspect of the move is we're going to have to sell the home where we raised our children," said LaMoria. "But the timing is right and this is a great opportunity. We are both very much looking forward to it."
They travel at least once a year to Vermont to visit his dad.
"I owe a lot to him," said LaMoria. "He taught me a lot over the years and gave me the courage and confidence to go for some of these opportunities."
Norm LaMoria, who's been with the NewBrook department for more than 50 years, said he wasn't surprised that his son applied for the job in Portland.
"He's always had a passion for this, ever since he was a kid," he said.
Norm and his wife, Martha, are both excited that their son will be closer to home.
"A three-and-a-half hour drive is much better than an 11-hour drive," he said.
Jerry LaMoria said he also learned a lot from his time at the Brattleboro Fire Department, and especially from Howard Mattison, who was the chief at the time.
"I consider him a mentor from years past," said LaMoria. "I learned from him what it's like to be in charge by watching him command the department."
"He was really on the ball," said Mattison. "I knew he would go places just because he had the right attitude. He was always gung ho and when you asked him to do something it was done and done right."
Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi said that though it's been "years and years" since he's spoken with LaMoria, he remembers him well.
"He was a very pleasant, straightforward person. A very hard worker with a real love for the fire service," said Bucossi. "Everything he did was about the fire service."
Former Brattleboro Fire Chief David Emery said he remembers LaMoria as being "a little whippersnapper hanging around the department."
"This kid, if he cut himself, he would bleed fire trucks," said Emery. "I had no doubt he was going places in his career."
Though Emery has only spoken to LaMoria twice in the last 10 years, he said Portland is getting an excellent fire chief.
"He's the cream of the crop and a real problem solver," said Emery. "He's going to bring them a world of experience."
LaMoria earned his bachelor's degree in Fire Science from the University of Maryland, University College. He was awarded the Maryland State Active Duty Medal for his efforts in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, when he led a team of 250 medical volunteers restoring public health services in Jefferson Parish, La.
The Portland Fire Department has about 250 employees in nine stations in the city and also has five stations on nearby islands.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.