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October 2, 2012

Tops in the state: NAFD Chief Matt Juliot among firefighters garnering top state awards

NEW ALBANY — Matt Juliot has survived both budget struggles and elections since being named New Albany Fire Chief in 2008.

While he maintains the teamwork, drive and loyalty of the firefighters he leads have served as the foundation of his tenure at the helm, Juliot was distinguished among his peers earlier this month.

Three New Albany firefighters garnered top state honors in their respective fields during the Sept. 14 Indiana Emergency Response Conference in Indianapolis.

At the top of the list was Juliot, who was named Fire Chief of the Year. He was nominated for the award by members of the NAFD.

“I’m very honored, there’s a lot of great chiefs in the state of Indiana and to be recognized as chief of the year is very gratifying,” Juliot said.

His family has long ties to the local fire department, as his uncle Fred Juliot began his career with the NAFD in the 1950s. Juliot recalled trips to the fire station as a child, when his passion to serve was first ignited.

After high school Juliot joined the U.S. Army, and eventually came back to New Albany with his hunger to serve still strong.

In 1995, Juliot became a New Albany firefighter. He said it was a proud moment for him.

“It’s like winning the lottery when you get a job like that,” Juliot said.

He worked his way through the ranks, progressing from sergeant to captain and eventually chief. Juliot took the reigns of the department after being appointed by then Mayor Doug England in 2008.

A sizable portion of the past four years was marked by budget woes for the city, as yearly cutbacks, salary freezes and disagreements over public safety spending were common themes in city government.

There was talk of closing a station and laying off firefighters — cuts that to this point have been avoided. With the help of Juliot and his staff, the city received a federal grant last year to foot some fire expenses and help balance spending in the department.

He was retained as fire chief by Mayor Jeff Gahan when he took office in January.

Through it all, Juliot said his firefighters and administrative staff have pressed on to serve the city.

“I’d say for the most part, everybody understands what the economy is and they’re just happy to have jobs,” Juliot said.

Plus there are labors that firefighters aren’t always too thrilled to be charged with completing, including Christmas light detail and watering city plants.

But Juliot said his team understands their role in the community, whether it’s saving a family from a burning house or pitching-in for a local event.

“Ultimately there are things they might not like, but they know we work for the city,” Juliot said.

Firemen Jody Kochert and Jay Barnes also received top awards at the Indiana Emergency Response Conference.

Kochert was recognized as EMT-Intermediate of the Year, and Barnes received the Fire Instructor of the Year award.

“Our  administration has supported training from day one,” Barnes said.

Despite budget setbacks, Barnes said the department goes out of its way to ensure firefighters are properly educated and ready for situations that may occur.

From swift boat rescue training to classes on fire safety, Barnes said the NAFD does a great job of preparing firefighters as well as protecting them.

And safety is usually one of the last thoughts on Juliot’s mind before he falls asleep, the chief said.

“I have to go to bed at night with that on my mind, not only if I’m keeping the firefighters safe, but the citizens,” he said.

In part as a way to save money, Gahan has elected to pursue privatization of the city’s ambulance service. But Juliot said as evidenced by Kochert’s award, the decision wasn’t based on the quality of the NAFD ambulance staff.

“It is sad that our ambulance is taking a turn, because our medics are top notch,” Juliot said.

All the firefighters are hard workers, coming in on 24-hour shifts and taking few breaks, he continued.

“We don’t play cards, and we don’t sit around waiting for a call,” Juliot said of common stereotypes of firefighters.

Instead, the men spend at least four hours a day in training and are responsible for cleaning and maintenance duties. Without their help, Juliot said he wouldn’t have been recognized with such a prestigious award.

“I would like for it to be reflected for the department as a whole,” Juliot said.

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Theater students rehearse a scene from "Seussical the Musical," directed by Silver Creek Theater Director, Alonzo Richmond, and New Albany Theater Director Amy Harpenau at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater Thursday evening. The musical includes around 70 students from 12 local schools that will be performing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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