QUILCENE — Frank Montone, a globe-trotting 31-year decorated civilian veteran of the U.S. Department of Defense Fire and Emergency Services, has taken the lead as chief of Quilcene Fire Rescue.
He follows Chief Larry Karp who retired in September 2018.
Montone, 55, retired from his DOD duties with Navy Region Northwest Fire and Rescue Services on June 28. He began his new job as Quilcene fire chief last Monday morning with a staff of three full-time EMT basic firefighters and 14 volunteers, along with Deputy Chief Don Svetich and district secretary Jean Morris.
Prior to his current post, he was a volunteer assistant chief with Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue in addition to his day job.
“I’m officially retired and I’m doing this because I want to,” Montone said. “There’s still enough that needs to be done. The fire service is a never-ending evolution of technology and tactics.
“I’m lucky that I’m close with Chief [Brad] Martin in Port Ludlow, [Chief] Willie [Knoepfle] in Discovery Bay and Chief [Jim] Walkowski in East Jefferson. We work with Engine 91 Indian Island, too. There’s a lot of proactiveness in Jefferson County.”
A native of Chicago, Montone relocated to four different continents dozens of times during his career, with his wife, Lori, and two children in tow.
Montone began his military service in 1987 as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force as a Fire Protection Specialist assigned to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany.
After his four-year commitment he decided that he wanted to be a civilian again. He took some time off to pursue other opportunities. He then got back into working with the fire service at Fort Sheridan, Ill., outside of Chicago.
Montone’s career trajectory took off, and every couple years he found himself zigzagging around the world to a different city on a new assignment.
He said an important professional experience was as a medic during his time at Sierra Army Depot in California. He had the opportunity to work in a hospital. He explained that he previously only treated patients from the “delivery end of the process.”
“This was an excellent experience to understand what it was like to be on the receiving end,” he said. “I got to learn everything about hospital procedures.”
After a several more opportunities, he was tapped to be fire chief in Sasebo, Japan, for the Navy.
“I loved the Japanese culture and the people,” he said. “I supervised eight fire stations and 191 Japanese firefighters, the hardest working people and workforce on the planet.”
“I get a Sasebo feeling here in Quilcene,” he said. “We were so tight-knit and reliant on each other. We have that same family feeling here.”
He served in Naples as Navy Region Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa fire chief supervising seven installations in Bahrain, Spain, Greece, Italy, Romania, Poland and Africa. He said it was “a unique challenge.”
Coincidentally, Rear Adm. Scott Gray, who is commander of Navy Region Northwest in Keyport, served as installation officer of Naval Support Activity in Naples at the same time Montone served, and they became friends.
When a job as region fire chief in Keyport became available, Montone took it to be closer to his wife’s relatives in the Seattle metro area. It reconnected him with Gray and completed a circle.
Montone said his retirement was government mandated but that he felt he still wanted to be involved with fire service and share his experiences for a few more years.
“I interviewed at other places, but I liked the process here,” he said. “It was the best I’ve ever been through and the most thorough. It was incredible with a chief’s interview, a community interview and then one with the firefighters. Then there was a lunch with the other candidates.”
Montone told his wife, originally from Shoreline, that someday they would settle back in the Pacific Northwest.
“I told my wife that one day we would get back here but I didn’t realize it would take circumnavigating planet Earth to do it.”
“I’m just a kid who grew up in Chicago, joined the Air Force and got lucky enough to get into fire protection,” he said. “It’s something I love to do and something I got blessed enough to do well.”
Montone, his wife, and daughter, Adriana, are living in Port Ludlow, a 15-minute commute to the Quilcene station. Their 19-year-old son, Dominick, will be enlisting in the Air Force this fall and plans to follow in his father’s footsteps, stepping into the fire protection service.
He stresses there will not be another move for his career.
“Maybe for once, I can start something and see it take root and grow,” Montone said. “I’m here to train my replacement.”
As for his love of all things Chicago, he said he’s a big Chicago sports fan citing the Cubs, Blackhawks and Bears.
“But at the Quilcene firehouse, it’s the Seahawks all the way.”
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].