Acting chief Marty deMasi knows the Payson Fire Department almost from the ground up. He has been with the PFD for 24 years, first as a volunteer, starting in 1978. He was then one of the first full-time firefighters hired by the Town of Payson in 1983.
The Mesa native first spent extended time in Payson in 1977 as part of the Forest Service Hot Shot Crew. When he came back to the Hot Shots in the summer of 1978 he decided he wanted to stay.
"I worked with the Forest Service during the fire season, then did odd jobs the rest of the year. I was a wood cutter, worked at Ace Hardware for awhile and the ambulance company. I saved up during fire season to get through the winter," deMasi said of his assorted careers in Payson before becoming one of Payson's professional firefighters.
He has no complaints about that hand-to-mouth life, "It was all good."
When he joined that first full-time staff, he was a firefighter, earned a promotion to lieutenant, then captain, and was most recently a battalion chief before becoming acting chief. He is already serving in the position while Chief John Ross prepares to leave the department on April 25 for the role of assistant chief of the Contra Costa County Fire District in California.
With such a long history with the PFD, deMasi has quite a few memories. Two of the primary ones: the fire that destroyed the Winchester Saloon in 1997 and a winter car wreck he and other Payson firefighters responded to in Pine.
"It had a very suspicious origin. We never could connect a suspect to it, but it was definitely set," he said of the Winchester fire.
And the wreck -- his wife was involved in it.
"She and three other women were commuting to Cottonwood to get their teaching degrees. It was snowing and they hit an icy patch," he said. The accident killed one of his wife's best friends, deMasi said.
That is another thing about being a firefighter in Payson for so long, on a lot of the calls, deMasi knows someone who is involved in it.
"It's kinda stressful. You always try to do the best you can, but when you know the people, you try that much harder."
As the new man in charge at the PFD, deMasi does not see many changes taking place, except those that are already planned.
He said the department will get its first ladder truck at the end of May, so everyone will be doing a lot of training with it.
"Since we've never had one, it will change the operation a little," he said. The PFD firefighters will be working with the Mesa Fire Department in the training and there are local residents who will be helping as well. He said Whispering Pines Fire Chief Mark Essary is with the Chandler Fire Department and has a lot of experience they plan to make use of, and the captain of one of the Phoenix Fire Department's ladder companies lives here, and they hope to use him as a resource as well.
There is new territory for deMasi to cover as acting chief, "The town has a lot going on that I'll be involved in, like the Capital Improvement Plan. The biggest challenge is getting used to the political landscape and learning to negotiate that. I don't have a lot of experience there. Fires are the easy part now."
He said he wants to make sure the PFD staff gets the stuff they need to do their jobs.
"The challenge of exhibiting leadership and the opportunity to serve the department and public, that's very cool. I'm looking forward to that."
In the few weeks he has been acting chief, deMasi said he has already gained a new perspective on his fellow firefighters, "We have a great group of hard-working, smart, committed people. ... It's great to see how hard everyone works and how they all pull together."
Name: Marty deMasi
Employer: Payson Fire Department
Birthplace: Mesa, Ariz.
Family: Wife, Dorothy; two dogs; five brothers; two sisters.
Personal motto: I don't always do things the hard way, but it's usually my first choice.
Inspiration: My mom -- she raised eight kids and put up with my dad and still kept her sense of humor intact.
Greatest feat: Marrying my beautiful wife, Dorothy.
My favorite hobbies or leisure activities are hiking, guitar, reading.
The three words that describe me best are Sense of Humor.
I don't want to brag, but this department kicks butt.
The person in history I'd most like to meet is Abraham Lincoln.
Luxury defined: A big place where I don't have to look at anybody and my dogs can roam about.
Dream vacation spot: Anywhere that doesn't have phone service and meetings are never scheduled
Why Payson? Why not?