During his 28 years with the Indianapolis Fire Department, Ernest Malone says he never aspired to be Chief.
"One of our positions is a captain and I wanted to reach the rank of Captain at a fire station and be at the absolute busiest and best station," he said. "None of this was in the long-range plan, but here we are today."
It wasn’t part of his long-term plan but, Thursday, Malone was announced as the city’s 42nd Fire Chief.
Keith Smith believes Malone is the type of leader who will get the support of the department and city.
"He pays attention to what he has to do," said Smith. "He pays attention to people. He pays attention to what's happening around him. So, he'll do a good job."
Smith served as Fire Chief from 1992 to 2000 and was part of the selection committee. He thinks Malone’s greatest challenge is to keep up with technology changes.
"Technology in our business used to change every decade, now it changes every other week," he said. "That's a good thing I think, it's just trying to stay current."
"Public safety budgets have shrunk, so yea, it's a bigger challenge to keep current with the money available," Smith added.
And Malone says as chief, he will embrace new technologies.
"Certainly the materials that are in today's building construction, it's not just wood and brick like we used to. There are plastics and polyurethane and the things that are a lot more hazardous to both our community and our fire fighters," said Malone. "So, the challenges are great, but that's why you're here. That's why we are here to protect you."
Malone will replace Brian Sanford, who is stepping down because of a battle with Lou Gehrig ’s Disease.
The 51-year-old had served as Sanford’s Assistant Chief since 2010, and says that experience prepared him to lead the department.
"Chief Sanford - I couldn't have asked for a better role model. He's my friend. He's a better man than he is a fire chief and he is a darn good fire chief," said Malone. "Just watching him in action, being involved with the meetings, and how things worked in the budget, and how to plan. I couldn't have asked for better tutelage as we move forward and take this next step."
Sanford is moving on to serve as Department of Public Safety Director Troy Riggs’ chief of staff, but says he will help Malone transition into the position over the next month.
"With all of the executive staff, we have kind of been working on developing a new leader. I've had on the back of my mind since I found out my health condition that this day was coming," said Sanford. "So, I've been working to prepare the mechanical, skills side and I think now that the selection has been made we can get down to more of the heart to heart and personal type talks, which I'm looking forward to."
Malone says he is looking forward to building on the momentum and relationships created under Sanford. He says his main priority is educating the public on how to prevent fires and to train the 1,200 person department on how to respond to a myriad of incidents.
"We are more than just a fire department. We get tasked with so many special concerns that when you call us we have to take care of it. There is no one else to call. We don't have an option to fail," he said. "That's the attitude we take when we respond and we are there to make it better."
Malone will officially take over as chief on August 11.