Helena firefighters swap jobs

Published 3:18 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When former Helena Fire Chief Pete Valenti decided he wanted to spend more time with his family, he knew he didn’t want to retire just yet. So, the solution was clear: offer to swap jobs with then-Deputy Chief John Wilder.

Wilder didn’t think twice before taking the unexpected chance to fulfill a long-time goal.

“I assumed I would have an opportunity for (this job) in the future. It was a little sooner than I anticipated,” Wilder said. “I feel like I’m up to the challenge and I look forward to the opportunity.”

Wilder, who has been in fire services for 22 years, 14 of those with the Helena Fire Department, became the chief on March 5.

However, he didn’t take on all of Valenti’s duties. Valenti will remain as the city’s fire marshal and will also assist Wilder in managing the department’s day-to-day operations.

Valenti said he made the decision after considering the change for about a year.

“Being the fire chief is very demanding and takes up a lot of personal time,” Valenti said. “At this point in my life, I just wasn’t willing to give that up. I just needed the time to take off whenever I needed to take off.”

He has been with the department since 1985 and has been fire chief for five years.

“I’ve done it all here, and I just needed to spend some time with the family,” Valenti said.

Wilder said his first three weeks on the job have gone well — with Valenti’s help, of course.

“I was already in operation as the deputy chief, so I just kind of took on a little more of a headache, so to speak,” Wilder said. “So far it’s been a very smooth transition. We worked very well together to begin with.”