NEW BRITAIN – As a kid, longtime Hartford firefighter Raul Ortiz always wanted to be fire chief or mayor, his aunt Maria Martinez said.
“He always had a goal,” Martinez said as she stood in fire headquarters next to his mother Sandra Martinez and other family members, city dignitaries and firefighters from New Britain and Hartford. “He sees his goals and he went for it.”
The 43-year-old Ortiz made history Monday morning as he was sworn in by Mayor Erin Stewart as the city’s first Hispanic Fire Chief.
Ortiz, a New Britain resident, will hit the ground “running,” he said, to command a 130-staff department that in the past year has undergone scrutiny and the resignation of the previous fire chief under a cloud of allegations of racism and low morale. “I need to speak to everyone before I know what is it that I want to change,” he said. “I really need to get inside this department and the get the pulse of the fire department and understand the underlying issues.”
He stressed repeatedly in his remarks following his swearing in that he would work to maintain the trust of city officials, his firefighters and the community. “I ask our residents, administration, and most importantly the New Britain Fire Department to afford me the opportunity to prove myself and whether I am worthy of wearing this uniform, not by my words, but by my actions, my character, and the integrity of my intent.”
Monday evening he was introduced to residents during a meet and greet at New Britain High School. He’ll spend the next couple of weeks talking with firefighters to get a sense of the issues that have plagued the department in recent years and led to an investigation last year of possible racism.
Firefighters have a good feeling about Ortiz’s reputation, said Deputy Chief Paul Walsh. “What we hear from Hartford is all good,” Walsh said. “It’s their loss and our gain.”
After reviewing the field of candidates for the job, choosing Ortiz was a “no-brainer,” Stewart said minutes after the ceremony. “This is a historic day,” said Stewart who admitted she was impressed with the way Ortiz conducted himself during the interviews. “It’s the start of a new era.”
Ortiz started as a Hartford firefighter in 1999. He served as a lieutenant from 2010 to 2016 and later served as an Executive Officer, Public Information Officer and Deputy Chief.
“Thank you to my family for their unwavering support,” Ortiz said as he addressed the packed house. “A young kid from Hartford, not a lot was expected in the situation we were in, right mom? I love you.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.