By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Breunig, who distinguished himself while directing rescue efforts during Hurricane Sandy’s record flooding, retired Tuesday to end his 20-year career with the department.
The city has not yet named Breunig’s permanent successor or an interim fire chief. The appointment of a new chief must be done in accordance with state Civil Service Commission requirements, city spokesman Doug Bergen said.
“Civil Service Commission guidelines dictate the eligibility list and process for hiring a successor,” Bergen said in a statement. “The city is near the end of that process and will notify the public and the media when a successor is named.”
Breunig could not be reached for comment Tuesday to discuss his retirement.
The Fire Department includes 58 full-time firefighters and three firehouses. The next chief will oversee the opening of a new $2.1 million fire station at 29th Street and West Avenue. The project is expected to be completed by next Memorial Day weekend.
Breunig served as chief since since 2012. A 1987 graduate of Ocean City High School, he was a volunteer firefighter in Marmora before joining the Fire Department in 1996.
Just three months after being appointed as chief, he supervised the Fire Department’s rescue of stranded residents whose homes were flooded when Hurricane Sandy swamped the city on Oct. 29, 2012.
“He stepped up at a time when the Fire Department needed a leader. He answered the call,” Administrative Deputy Chief Steve Costantino recalled of Breunig’s handling of the Sandy crisis. “He had his hands full and he did a great job.”
Breunig was also praised for bringing big, flood-proof military vehicles to the city through a government surplus program that he identified. Those vehicles were obtained at no cost to the city. The police, fire and Public Works departments all use them now to respond to emergencies, Costantino said.
“We’re able to get anywhere and can respond quicker,” Costantino explained of the benefits of the vehicles.
Also during his tenure as chief, Breunig was recognized for reducing the department’s overtime costs and for strengthening ties between firefighters and the community.
Breunig was also known as a strong advocate of advanced education, training and certification for firefighters.
“He was a huge proponent of making sure that guys had their training and furthered their education,” Costantino said.
In an unusual request that was rejected by the city, Breunig sought a demotion to deputy fire chief in 2015 to try to increase his salary.
The fire chief’s maximum base salary is set by city ordinance at $126,554. However, department heads, including the fire chief, are usually granted 1.25 percent annual raises by City Council to match pay hikes given to other city employees who are under contract, Bergen said. Bergen said Breunig’s salary was a little more than $130,000.
Deputy fire chiefs make higher salaries than the chief’s base salary because their pay is negotiated through collective bargaining.