The Palm Coast Fire Department on Wednesday promoted Capt. Gary Potter to battalion chief, succeeding Mark Valentik, who retired after 25 years of service, and Lt. James Neuenfeldt to captain.
The promotions were part of a series of promotions and new hires affecting the $9 million fire department–the largest single-expenditure out of the city’s general budget. The fire department employs 58 people under Chief Jerry Forte–two more than the next-largest department in the general fund (the streets division. The utility department actually employs the most people, 143, but it’s funded separately, through billing).
Other notable promotions Wednesday included driver engineers Michael Chandley and Nikolay Kulev, who were promoted to lieutenant. Firefighter Jeremy Barton was promoted to driver engineer. Fire Department interns Bill Kerek, Joshua Lamont and Brandon O’Hara were hired to begin their fire service careers. The starting salary for a firefighter is $39,256.
Neuenfeldt’s annual pay will go from $49,000 a year to $51,500, Potters will go from $55,000 to $57,700.
The newly promoted firefighters were ceremoniously pinned by their family and friends at the Wednesday ceremony at City Hall. “This next wave of promotions reflects the department’s succession plan put in place years ago to ensure we continue forward without missing a step,” Forte was quoted as saying in a city release. The Palm Coast Fire Department mentoring program prepares personnel for future promotions.
“The Palm Coast Fire Department provides high quality service to our citizens and visitors, and I would like to thank our retiring fire officers for their long service and dedication to our community,” said Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland. “We welcome our newly promoted fire officers and congratulate all firefighter interns who have been elevated to career firefighters. I am confident our fire officers, led by Chief Forte, will continue to provide excellent care and fire protection services for Palm Coast.”
In the city’s 2017 survey of residents, the fire department got the highest positive rating by far (96 percent) of any city service, other than “ambulance/EMS” (a shared responsibility with the county’s Fire Rescue department).
The department’s Patrick Juliano provided the following brief sketches of the promoted an d newly hired firefighters:
Battalion Chief Gary Potter has been with the Palm Coast Fire Department since 2008. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Safety Studies from Sienna Heights University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Barry University. He has come up through the ranks having been promoted to lieutenant in 2012 and captain in 2016.Gary and his wife Jacqui have three beautiful children and enjoy traveling in their spare time.
Capt. James Neuenfeldt has been with the Palm Coast Fire Department since 2004. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 2012. He earned his associate degree from Daytona Sate College and is working toward a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from Barry University. Capt. Neuenfeldt previously served with the U.S. Army Reserves where he was a combat medic. He and his wife Amy have four children.
Lt. Michael Chandley has been with the Palm Coast Fire Department since 2003. A native of Southern California, he served four years in the U.S. Army prior to relocating to Florida. He attended the Flagler Adult Education for firefighting in 2003 and Daytona State College for his EMT certification that same year. He was promoted to driver engineer in 2016 and has been a ride-up lieutenant since 2010. He and his wife Amie, reside in Port Orange with their son and daughter.
Lt. Nikolay Kulev has been with the Palm Coast Fire Department since 2006. He earned his associate degree in fire sciences from Kaplan University. He attended the First Coast Technical College for firefighting and EMT in 2008 and Daytona State College for his paramedic certification in 2010. He began his career as a volunteer firefighter July of 2006 and was elevated to a career firefighter in March of 2009. He was promoted to the rank of driver engineer in 2016. He and his wife Vickie reside in Palm Coast with their three daughters.
Driver Engineer Jeremy Barton has been with the Palm Coast Fire Department since 2016. He joined the fire department after serving as a firefighter-paramedic for Marion County Fire Rescue for two years. He obtained his firefighter, EMT and paramedic certifications from Daytona State College. He and his wife Jill reside in Bunnell with their three children.
Firefighter-paramedic Bill Kerek joined the Palm Coast Fire Department in May of 2019. He began his career as a firefighter in 2004 starting with the St. Augustine Fire Department. His service continued for 13 years as a firefighter-paramedic and flight medic for Flagler County Fire Rescue. Kerek served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1994-1998 having obtained the rank of corporal. He obtained his firefighter, EMT and paramedic certifications from First Coast Technical College. He earned his Bachelor of Science in public administration from Flagler College. Kerek and his son have been residents of Palm Coast since 2006.
Firefighter-EMT Joshua Lamont joined the Palm Coast Fire Department in June of 2019. He is a graduate of Matanzas High School and the Florida Virtual School. He obtained his firefighter and EMT certifications from First Coast Technical College and was born and raised in Palm Coast.
Firefighter-EMT Brandon O’Hara joins the Palm Coast Fire Department this month. He is a 2012 graduate of the Florida Virtual School. He obtained his EMT certification from Daytona State College and his firefighter certification from First Coast Technical College. O’Hara has been a resident of Palm Coast since 2016, where he resides with his girlfriend and their daughter.