Helena’s Fire Chief Valenti retires after more than 35 years of service

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

HELENA – City officials, family friends and representatives from surrounding municipalities and their departments attended a retirement party for Helena Fire Chief Peter Valenti on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Valenti, who is retiring from fire service after a career spanning nearly 40 years, first began with the Helena Fire Department as a volunteer in August 1985. After receiving his paramedic license from UAB’s EMT school in 1988, he became the third person employed by the city’s fire department, a number which included Chief Garry Penhale.

“Chief Penhale took a chance on me in January 1989 and thus began my long career,” Valenti said. “When I started, we worked Monday through Friday, eight hours a day and ran eight to 10 calls a month, all out of one fire station.”

Valenti himself notes that those numbers have changed dramatically over his time with the fire department. Now the department includes three fire stations that are all manned with three personnel at any given moment operating under 24-hour shifts.

Valenti worked 24-hour shifts for roughly 17 years with the Helena Fire Department before being promoted to chief in 2005. Preceding that position, he was appointed as Helena’s first fire marshal, the first lieutenant and the first captain for the department over the course of those years.

“I have had a role, small to big, in the growth of HFD and Shelby County fire services in general,” he said. “I have served on several committees for Shelby County fire services, including the training center development and construction. I have also served as the vice-chair, and the chairperson, for the Shelby County Fire Chiefs and EMS Association and was the founding President of the Helena Firefighters Association.”

While he wishes to thank past and current city administrations, along with all past and current HFD firefighters, officers and other local fire and EMS agencies for their “advice, assistance, mentorship, support and friendship,” over the decades, it was members from these very groups that gathered to instead thank Valenti himself for these very same qualities at the party held in his honor.

“Pete Valenti is the epitome of what the Helena Fire Department is,” said Brian Puckett, mayor of Helena. “He has given his life, his heart and his soul to this city and the department. I am glad that everyone is here to celebrate Pete.”

Moving forward, Valenti doesn’t claim to have any grand plans other than enjoying life and taking a much needed break from work. His family is readying to welcome another grandchild, with his daughter currently pregnant with her second child.

“(She) has already advised me of how helpful I could be assisting her,” Valenti said. “My son owns a fishing charter, in Orange Beach, and offered me a job as his deckhand, I politely declined. I’ve been fishing with him, I have seen how hard they work.”

He does anticipate that he will use the coming years to travel. Although he doesn’t have anywhere specific in mind at the current time, Valenti says he would like to do more of it, even if it is just locally, while he is young enough to enjoy it.

“Between travel and family, I believe my life may be busier than when I was working,” Valenti said.

Valenti ceremoniously passed the torch to his successor in the department, Fire Chief Chris Miller, during a swearing-in ceremony held at a regularly scheduled City Council session on Monday, Sept. 25. His retirement was effective Oct. 1.