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New Grand Rapids fire chief gets emotional after swearing in, shares priorities

Brad Brown has become the 25th fire chief for the City of Grand Rapids after being sworn in at a ceremony Monday.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As Brad Brown stood at the podium inside the city commission chambers afternoon, he began to tear up about three minutes in to his six minute speech. As he spoke directly to family and friends about the long road it's taken to get to his moment, the twists and turns, and the aspirations and fears he shared with them, his voice began to crack. And then he remembered a way to pull himself together.

"I'm going to use Chief Johnson's trick and pinch my leg a little bit. There we go. Oh, wait, I'm not supposed to say that out loud," Brown said as he received laughter from the crowd.

It's clear from Brown's emotional address just moments after being sworn in as the fire chief in the City of Grand Rapids that the position means a great deal to him.

"Today is a day of immense pride and gratitude, as I stand before you as your newly-appointed fire chief - the 25th fire chief to serve our great city. Words cannot express the honor and humility I feel accepting this position and the tremendous responsibility that comes with it," Brown said.

Brown takes over now-retired Chief John Lehman, who had served as the city's chief since 2016. He was appointed in April, beating out the other finalist for the job, Eloy Vega, fire chief and emergency management coordinator for the City of Port Neches, Texas.

"Even though we embarked on a nationwide search, and had very many qualified finalists, you stood head and shoulders above them all, both statistically on paper, but physically in stature," said City Manager Mark Washington, making reference to Brown's height.

Brown is a 27-year veteran of the fire service who started his career in North Carolina. Brown has filled various roles including acting fire chief in his 20 years serving the City of Grand Rapids.

"There are so many things that I have appreciated about Brad over the years, from his genuine love for his job to always, always looking for ways to improve. He is always eager to find ways to better serve our community," said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

Chief Brown went into some of those improvements he hopes to make in the city during his address.

"From our river redevelopment, to lithium ion batteries. To simply updating our aging infrastructure, there is much work to be done. We must stay ahead of the curve embrace the new technologies, training methodologies and strategies to ensure that we continue providing the highest level of service to those in need," he said.

"Community engagement and collaboration will be central to our approach. We must continue to foster strong relationships with our residents, our businesses, our local organizations, working together to enhance fire prevention, education, and emergency preparedness."

Chief Brown promised to lead with "an open heart and an open door," and said that he will listen to the ideas, concerns, and aspirations of the people in the city.

"Together, we will create an environment that fosters innovation, growth and camaraderie. We will invest in the professional development of our firefighters, providing them with the tools and resources they need to excel in their roles," Chief Brown said.

"I firmly believe that by empowering our personnel and fostering a culture of respect and collaboration, we will achieve greatness. The GRFD is truly one of the best fire departments in this country, but together we can make it even better."


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