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Deputy Ventura is new fire chief

Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ventura has been chosen to be Maui County’s new fire chief. Maui Fire Department photo

Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ventura, who was praised for his work ethic, dedication and integrity, was selected Wednesday to be Maui County’s new fire chief.

The Fire and Public Safety Commission voted unanimously to choose Ventura after hearing public testimony and interviewing two candidates for the job as administrative head of the department of 389 employees.

His appointment takes effect Oct. 1.

“It is truly an honor to be selected to lead our department into the future,” Ventura said via phone after his selection. “I am excited as well as, of course, a little nervous. But I think that’s what keeps people sharp and on their toes.

“My goals are to make sure we take care of our community and we take care of our employees as best as we can to keep everybody safe so everyone can return home to their families after every watch.”

Ventura is a veteran of nearly 20 years in the Fire Department, starting his fire career in 2002 with an engine company at the Kahului Fire Station before being promoted to Firefighter II in 2007 and working on a Kahului rescue crew. In 2011, he was promoted to Firefighter III and was assigned to the Health and Safety Bureau, then worked as a driver for Ladder 3 in Lahaina, before joining the hazmat crew in Kahului. He was promoted to captain in 2015 and worked in an engine company at the Napili Fire Station.

He was selected to serve as deputy chief in August 2018 and has served as acting fire chief since Fire Chief David Thyne’s retirement July 1.

After a search that included posting two sets of recruitment notices, the commission announced last month that Ventura and Amos Lonokailua-Hewett, a retired fire battalion chief, were candidates for the job.

“We had two fine candidates that did an exemplary job in the interview process and had tremendous records,” Commission Chairman Kyle Ginoza said.

He said Ventura is “someone that we believe will very ably lead the department over the next how many years.”

During online public testimony Wednesday morning, Battalion Chief Kris Sakamoto said Ventura was successful because of his “work ethic, dedication and integrity.”

“He also has that personality that always makes you feel welcome,” Sakamoto said. “We all knew early on that he had what it takes to be fire chief and a really good one.”

Battalion Chief Jeff Giesea said Ventura has “had the reputation of being, basically, exactly who you want as a firefighter” since he joined the department.

Giesea said Ventura was “exemplary” in his skill, work ethic, attitude and “his ability to get along with the people he works with and bring out the best.”

“All of my experiences with Chief Ventura have done nothing but reinforce that reputation he has had,” said Giesea, who has worked with Ventura for 20 years in various capacities.

After working directly with Ventura for the past two years, Assistant Chief Michael Werner said he was “very confident in his ability to run this department.”

“I’m confident in his ability to direct it and take it into future,” Werner said. “He’s competent, he’s driven and he really cares about firefighters and he cares about everybody who lives on this island and everybody who visits this island.

“He’s been doing the job and he does a great job.”

In addition to managing the department’s $48 million budget, Ventura has been “our go-to guy” in the pandemic, Werner said.

“He’s built a lot of very important relationships,” Werner said. “He recognizes how important it is to work with the community, the mayor.”

Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey took vacation leave to testify in a personal capacity in support of Ventura.

“The right man for the job is already on the job,” she said.

She said she has worked extensively with Ventura for the past two and a half years, after first meeting him over “a potentially explosive personnel matter that was very sensitive.”

“I was concerned. Fortunately, Brad was as well and reached out to me,” she said. “Because that matter was handled quickly and appropriately through his direction, there was no litigation.”

A few months later, Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health fines were negotiated down because of adequate procedures put in place by Ventura, she said.

Lutey said that when she sends legal briefs to Ventura, “he puts a lot of time and energy into going through it line by line, exhibit by exhibit, and that’s unique.”

“In terms of his ability to understand liability, he’s like a sponge,” she said. “He absorbs everything I’ve explained to him.”

During the pandemic, Ventura “went out proactively to find housing for firefighters who were in more cramped quarters,” she said.

Ventura is a 1993 graduate of Baldwin High School and a 1997 graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

Throughout his career, he has been an instructor in many firefighting disciplines including vehicle extraction, incident command system, all-hazards incident management, hazardous materials and rescue systems.

When he joined the Fire Department, Ventura said he didn’t have a goal of becoming chief.

“We all signed up to be firefighters,” he said. “We all signed up to help our community and do all the exciting things that firefighters get to do. No firefighter signs up on day one thinking, ‘when I become fire chief.’ Over time, you get an understanding of what that means and what the responsibilities are. And you make a decision at some time in your career to take on the challenge of being chief.”

He said the events that stand out in his career have involved teaching and mentoring others as a captain and then deputy chief.

“Although I was lucky enough to be working in a lot of busy districts, went on a lot of rescues to save people’s lives, did all sorts of really cool firefighting things I really enjoyed, the biggest accomplishments are when I’m able to help people get better at what they want and further their careers,” Ventura said. “To see someone come out of it better — those are the big moments for me.”

Following the commission vote Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Michael Victorino offered his congratulations to Ventura.

“I have watched him grow professionally and personally, and I’m extremely proud to see what he has achieved,” Victorino said in a statement. “I’m confident he will continue to provide strong leadership for the men and women of the Maui Fire Department who make such great personal sacrifices to protect lives and property in our community.”

After the “arduous” selection process that began four months ago, Ventura said family members were able to share in the moment when he was selected as fire chief.

He and Emily, his wife of 20 years, have two freshman daughters — Bailey, who started college at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, and Chloe, who attends Kamehameha Schools Maui.

His father, Conrad Ventura, retired in 1997 as an assistant chief, the equivalent of a battalion chief today.

“I truly believe that God has a plan for all of us,” Brad Ventura said. “I was at peace during this process just knowing that no matter what happened, it was his plan and I would go where he wanted me to be.”

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

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