Steve Hester retires as fire chief; Jones named interim chief

After 45 years of service, Fire Chief Steve Hester retired May 29.

During a ceremony at Fire Station 1 on Friday, fellow firefighters and law enforcement officials from several cities have Hester a sendoff, complete with a final call over the radio from the city dispatch center.

Hester retiring as Great Falls Fire Rescue chief

In his earlier years, Hester served in the military and moved around throughout his career.

“I was a vagabond,” Hester said.

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He ended up at Malmstrom in 1989 and at the time thought he couldn’t wait to leave Great Falls.

But then he started meeting people in the community and then met his wife, Janine, at the J Bar T Roadhouse and has been here ever since.

“There’s been a whole lot of people I could thank, but she’s the one that made this whole thing possible,” he said.

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To the firefighters gathered on the truck floor, Hester said, “I want all of you to be safe and more importantly, I want you all to watch out for each other. This is a dangerous job.”

Hester initially planned to retire May 1 but stayed longer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Manager Greg Doyon announced the retirement during the Jan. 21 City Commission meeting.

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Hester was named chief in 2015 and has more than 40 years in the fire service.

He had served as assistant fire chief since 2004 and assumed the role of chief from Randy McCamley, who retired in December 2014.

Hester is a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, serving 20 years in the fire protection career field. While in the Air Force, he was a training officer, fire marshal and fire chief. He is a veteran of Desert Storm and served half his military career overseas. After his military retirement in 1994, Hester began his civilian career in fire protection.

When hiring for the fire chief position in 2015, Doyon said it was a tough decision but that Hester did so well in the interview that Doyon wanted to give him the opportunity to put his ideas into action.

“I have absolutely no regrets in making the appointment,” Doyon said. “He really did put his heart and soul into this position.”

Jones named assistant chief at GFFR

Assistant Chief Jeremy Jones has been named interim chief while Doyon completes the hiring process.

Jones was named assistant chief in 2018 and had became a battalion chief in February 2016 and previously spent 17 years on the truck floor. Of those, Jones spent 10 years running an engine company as a captain. He’s also a paramedic.

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Jones is the son of Bob Jones, who served a term on the City Commission and formerly served as chief of the Great Falls Police Department.

Doyon said that the hiring process for Hester’s replacement is a bit behind due to COVID-19, but he’s opening the search to external candidates. Once the position is advertised, applicants are typically reviewed within 30 days, Hester said.

Final candidates will do in-person interviews, he said.

During Friday’s ceremony, Jones thanked Hester for his 45 years of service and serving as chief at a time when the department needed leadership and guidance.