Meet Montreal's new fire chief: Richard Liebmann, a onetime EMT in Cote-St-Luc

Montreal's fire department has a much bigger job than it used to, and now it has a new chief to do that job.

Richard Liebmann has been officially named as the city's 23rd fire chief since the department was founded in the 1800s.

He knows more than most how much its duties have expanded since then.

"To be honest, I really thought that the summit of my career was when I [implemented] the fire-based medical response for the agglomeration of Montreal," he said Wednesday.

The fire department handles a lot more than fires or even fire prevention.

"About two thirds of our call volume are emergency medical responses," Liebmann explained.

"The fire chief becomes coordinator of emergency management during a disaster [or] catastrophe."

Liebmann began his career as an emergency medical technicial in Cote-St-Luc. He was named interim director of the fire department when his precedessor, Bruno Lachance, left last year for medical reasons.

He's also the first native English-speaker since 1933 to be Montreal's fire chief, though he said that doesn't matter much to him.

"To be honest, I... don't think of myself as anglophone or anything else," he said. "I've lived and worked in Quebec all my life and the most important element is diversity."

This year, Liebmann has been very involved in the COVID-19 emergency response plan at City Hall.

Along with all these other challenges, he also inherits a fire department with a history of labour troubles, including ones that had some firefighters storming into City Hall in 2014.

Liebmann says they've turned the page since then and he's "faithful we're moving in the right direction."

Montreal city leaders say they're sure they've made the right choice after years of instability at Montreal Fire.

"He's really the ideal person to take over the department at this point in its history," said councillor Alex Norris.

"It was really based first and foremost on his qualities, on his experience, and I'm glad we'll be working together," said Mayor Valerie Plante.

Among Liebmann's first plans now that he's officially on the job? Recruiting more men and women from various backgrounds into the traditionally white service, he said. 

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