Burlington Fire Chief to Leave for the Top Job in South Burlington | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington Fire Chief to Leave for the Top Job in South Burlington


Published June 3, 2022 at 6:21 p.m.
Updated June 21, 2022 at 2:29 p.m.

Fire Chief Steven Locke (right) - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Fire Chief Steven Locke (right)
Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke is leaving his post to run the South Burlington Fire Department.

The municipalities announced the move in a joint press release Friday afternoon. The news comes days before a meeting at which Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger will present a slate of department heads for council approval, an annual vote held each June.

Locke, 52, has been a firefighter since age 16. He took the top job in Burlington in 2016 after two decades at the Hartford Fire Department, including seven as chief.

Locke always imagined moving on to a larger department but said the pandemic changed his outlook, particularly since he plans to retire in four to six years. In South Burlington, he'll manage a department of 30, compared to the 90-plus in Burlington. Hartford had a roster of 20.

"I’ve had a great ride in Burlington, and it’s been really fun. I’m just ready to do something different," Locke said.

Locke's last day in Burlington is June 30; his new gig starts July 11.

Weinberger said he's grateful for Locke's service, particularly during the early days of the pandemic when the chief published daily COVID-19 briefings and helped coordinate the city's virus response. Locke also served as the city's interim chief administrative officer in 2019 and 2020.

"Chief Locke ... has been more than simply a Fire Chief during his time here," the mayor said in a statement. "His accomplishments at the Fire Department will have lasting value to the City for years to come. I am proud to have served with Chief Locke and will greatly miss his steadiness, wise counsel, and supportive, ‘can do’ character.”

Locke is replacing outgoing South Burlington fire chief Terry Francis, who will become the city's fire marshal after 48 years in the firefighting profession. Locke said the department is "eager for change" and that he looks forward to collaborating with the South Burlington's firefighter union, whose members are cross-trained as emergency medical technicians, like in Burlington.

Locke will have a slightly lower base salary in SoBu — $130,000, compared to $130,578 in Burlington — but will actually earn more money there when including benefits, he said.

Locke isn't Burlington's only public safety official to move to the 'burbs. In 2019, then-deputy police chief Shawn Burke took a job as South Burlington police chief, a role he still holds today. Burke had been a finalist for the Burlington police chief job in 2015, but the city ultimately hired Brandon del Pozo.
Mayor Miro Weinberger appoints Steven Locke in 2015 - FILE: ALICIA FREESE ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Alicia Freese ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger appoints Steven Locke in 2015
Locke said he harbors no ill will toward Burlington. He said he couldn't ask for "a better boss" than Weinberger, whom Locke said gave him complete autonomy to run the department.

Over his six-year tenure, Locke is credited with making various improvements to the city's five fire stations and replacing eight fire trucks through voter-approved capital bonds. Locke also introduced a computer-aided dispatch system that sends the closest trucks to fire scenes, and he's a leader in the ongoing effort to create a regional emergency dispatch program in Chittenden County.

Locke downplayed his achievements and instead credited his staff, saying that they welcomed him despite being the first chief in three decades who was not an internal hire.

"They were willing to adapt to change," Locke said. "I left [the department] better than I found it, but it was all about the staff. They were so supportive and so welcoming and so hard working."
Locke said the next chief will need to address staffing challenges, including a recent uptick in mandatory overtime shifts as employees have had to cover for sick or injured coworkers. Those instances increased during the pandemic, Locke said, and have become a quality of life issue. The department is also seeing higher call volumes, partly because of the number of mental-health related calls, he said.

It's unclear when the city will begin looking for Locke's permanent replacement, though several searches are under way to fill other department head vacancies. Burlington has lacked a city attorney since May after Dan Richardson was named a Vermont Superior Court judge, while the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging has been without a leader since former director Tyeastia Green left in March.

The city also has two acting department heads: aviation director Nic Longo, who has filled that role since his former boss was fired last fall, and police chief Jon Murad.

The city has advertised the airport position, but not the police one. Weinberger plans to keep Murad on as acting chief indefinitely despite the fact that the council did not confirm Murad for the permanent post earlier this year. The chief's name isn't on the list of department heads that councilors will approve at their meeting Monday, though Weinberger said in a statement that "it remains possible" that he could call for a formal vote on Murad in the future.

“While the department continues to face major challenges, and will for some time, the Chief is making steady progress and he has my full support,” the mayor said.