New Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Chief Matthew Love is just 35-years-old, and with his even-more youthful countenance, will need to keep his ID handy for a long time to come. Despite appearances, however, Chief Love brings a lifetime of passion and experience to the beach community.
A native of Colorado Springs and a Colorado resident since birth, Fort Myers Beach is about as different an environment as possible. “Both Colorado and Southwest Florida are gorgeous,” he says in comparing the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, “but each is a unique kind of beautiful. You do not have to live here long to fall in love with the beach!”
Before becoming the head of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District on Monday, March 21st, Love was chief of the Cimarron Hills Fire Department, a Colorado Springs suburb, since 2009. He dreamed of being a firefighter as far back as he can recall. “Like almost every little kid at some point, you want to be one,” he smiles at the memory. “While most outgrow it, I grew into it because it is cool, action-packed, and you take care of people who need your help – you change lives for the better; what is better than that? As a teenager, I hung around my local fire station and began volunteering as soon as I turned 16, then became a department member literally on my 18th birthday.”
Love had a twin passion, however: he just did not want to be a firefighter; he wanted to be a leader of firefighters. “To me, the ideal career is an equal mixture of service and leadership,” he explains. “You can be the world’s greatest firefighter but that will not make you a great chief operating officer. Plus there are political and financial components. I soon learned if you aspired to be in charge of a fire service, you need a lot of alphabet soup letters after your name!”
Education became a priority. He earned his undergraduate degree in Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, and his Executive Fire Officer certification from the National Fire Academy in Maryland. “This is a four-year program that requires students to write 4 theses rather than just one like most institutions,” Chief Love says. “It really brought out your best.” His Masters Degree is on the Science of Leadership, with emphasis on Emergency Management, Executive Leadership and Disaster Preparedness.
Love possesses a Chief Fire Officer designation from The Center of Public Safety & Excellence, where you receive audits from at least two other chiefs from different states. These occur every three years, a much more intensive process than that required of most certifications. “It is a challenge,” he admits, “but I love challenges.”
A personal and professional challenge occurred in late 2015. Life seemed perfect for Love. He and wife Kristen lived in his hometown community with their two young sons, 4-1/2-year-old Noah and newly arrived, infant Tyler. His parents and only brother were close by, and he was already the Fire Chief for Cimarron Hills. “During wildfire season, I fought blazes in our own neighborhood. I hated that, but did not want anyone else protecting us.” Then Kristen saw the advertisement for the Fort Myers Beach opening online and strongly encouraged him to apply, saying, “They are looking for you!” An official visit, community and fire district interviews soon followed, and then came the job offer he quickly accepted. “You would think leaving the security of home and family would be scary, but it is just the reverse: I was so eager to finally arrive here and get going.”
Love describes the roughly 60-person (including support staff) Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District as “a world-class group. When you are with good people, it is easy to step in and be successful. It is fantastic to be part of a great team, and when we all work together the community is the real winner. You simply cannot outwork these folks. No matter how early I arrive at headquarters, there is always someone already here, and no matter how late I stay I am never the last to leave. That speaks volumes about the dedication and commitment of our team.”
An essential component of the Chief’s management style is communication: “In our public positions, we communicate to the community all the time,” Love emphasizes. “I get excited speaking with and educating our citizens. I want our department to be a community resource, where anyone can walk in and get an answer to any question. We must be transparent because a lack of information causes people to wonder and even doubt what we do.
“Everyone will not agree with you all the time, but it is important to know we enforce rules and regulations for concrete reasons. I compare it to raising my oldest son – he may not comprehend today why everything we do is to make him a better person or to provide him a better life, but one day he will. If you treat people sincerely and take them seriously, it is amazing that even if they do not get the answer they want, they shake your hand and thank you for your time. Communication to me is a really cool part of this career.”
Chief Love is currently getting to know his coworkers, visiting the fire stations and going on morning ride-a-longs, and interacting with partner agencies like the United States Coast Guard, commenting that “there will be a lot less wildfires in my future and many more water rescues!” He took part in the Fort Myers Beach School Easter program, and can already feel the strong, almost family atmosphere beach residents share. While he has yet to plan or implement any departmental changes, having already served as a Fire Chief provides him the blueprint and skills necessary to take the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District to the next level, saying “I want to experience what we have, then add values and components that will make our outstanding organization excellent.” He will not, however, make these decisions on an island, so to speak! “When I acquire and assemble necessary data, I bring in the troops to test out the various models and plans, because the opinions of the team are essential to our success.”
Although excited to be part of the fabric of the Fort Myers Beach community, Chief Love desperately misses his young family. “Kristen and the boys will remain in Colorado while we sell our house. She and the baby visited, but Noah has yet to experience Southwest Florida. We showed him videos, though, and he is so excited about the beach. A good thing about being so busy right now is that it keeps me from missing them too much! It is hard being away, not only from them but the rest of my family. My parents understand, however, and know they now have one of the most beautiful places in the country to visit!”
Such are the trials and tribulations that come with leadership, causing Chief Love to reflect on his new charge: “You never master leadership. In this arena, you are always a student, no matter how long you live, but I appreciate its results, like seeing your coworkers and fire control district and community thrive. Whether it be through public safety, education, communication or any of the multitude of ways we in public service benefit our citizens, we hold the public trust as community leaders, and that is its own reward.”
For more information of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District call 239-590-4200 or see fmbfire.org; in emergencies call 911.