Fire chief to retire at end of June

Search to begin for Murray’s successor

Fire Chief Jeff Murray appears at a County Council meeting in November. He will be retiring at the end of the month after 10 years as chief. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Fire Chief Jeff Murray is retiring at the end of the month, ending more than 29 years with the department, including the last decade as chief.

“It’s time to move on,” Murray said Wednesday. “We’re ending on a high note. It’s a great time.”

Under Murray, the department obtained new firefighting equipment, improved maintenance of vehicles and streamlined training. “We got our department up to certification level, which is a big deal,” Murray said.

“We were able to upgrade almost all of our equipment over these 10 years,” he said. “Some of the best equipment in the country is here on island protecting our people.”

The department also completed the transition to bring lifeguards, formerly with the Ocean Safety Division of the Department of Parks and Recreation, into the Fire Department in 2016.

The department undertook a “quest for accreditation,” which involves meeting standards for review by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

“I really hope that the (Fire and Public Safety) commission and the new chief still move in that direction because I think it’s the best thing for the community,” Murray said. 

The Maui High School graduate served for more than five years in the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter before starting his Maui Fire Department career in 1989 at the Lanai Fire Station.

Murray was a Fire Department search-and-rescue captain when he was selected to be fire chief in March 2008. He was sworn in the following month to head the department that now includes 61 lifeguards along with 306 uniformed firefighters and 21 support staff.

At times, Murray said he wondered if he would stay for 10 years, as he originally planned.

“Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year — it wears on you,” he said. “Nothing that I didn’t enjoy doing.

“I really, really love serving the community. I think I’m going to miss that the most, especially our people we work with all the time.”

Murray, 52, said he has no immediate plans, except “projects I have to do personally that have been on hold for 11 years.”

Over the years, Murray received favorable evaluations from the Fire and Public Safety Commission, said Chairman Charles Hirata.

“He’s always been rated very highly by the commissions,” Hirata said. “He’s always been very active in the different causes that the department gets involved in.”

During Murray’s tenure, the department participated in community service and outreach projects, including Battle of the Badges football and softball competitions that pitted firefighters against police officers in fundraisers for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui. On-duty firefighters have worn pink T-shirts in October as part of the Go Pink campaign to benefit the Pacific Cancer Foundation.

Murray and now retired Deputy Chief Robert Shimada were able to obtain new fire apparatus for the department, Hirata said.

“It’s always been a struggle to keep the department as fully funded as possible,” he said.

He said the department has faced staffing shortages, which remain an issue.

After Murray retires June 30, Deputy Chief Lionel Montalvo will serve as acting fire chief until a new chief is selected.

Hirata said an announcement will be made soon soliciting applications for the chief’s job.

“We’re trying to move the process along as quickly as possible so there won’t be a gap in leadership,” Hirata said. “The selection of the chief is probably one of the most important responsibilities the Fire Commission has, to make sure we select the right person for this job.

“There’s a lot of challenges to running a three-island fire department. In an age of flat budgets, it becomes even more challenging to keep the department fully operational and fully funded and fully staffed.”

Murray noted that the new chief would be selected in an election year when a new mayor will be voted in.

“This is a great opportunity for the next person coming in,” he said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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