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Middleburg Heights assistant fire chief retires after 35 years of public service

Helped News 5, ABC News educate viewers about smoke alarm types
Middleburg Heights assistant fire chief retires after 35 years of public service
Posted at 6:59 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 23:21:44-04

MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio — After 35 years on the job, Middleburg Heights’s assistant fire chief is hanging up his uniform for good.

John Desmarteau is heading off to retirement after a lifetime of public service.

“Yeah, it's kind of a great career,” said Desmarteau.

Friends, family, and colleagues of John Desmarteau celebrated those many years of service Friday at a ceremony inside the fire department.

“Somebody like John is invaluable to any organization, but in this case he's even more valuable to the region,” said Chief Briant Gelgas.

Desmarteau joined the Seven Hills Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic in 1985. Two years later, he was hired full-time at the Parma Heights Fire Department where he spent the next four years.

He joined the Middleburg Heights Fire Department in 1991 and quickly climbed through the ranks to become the department’s first-ever assistant chief.

“I know how blessed I am that I'm part of one of the greatest professions on Earth,” said Desmarteau.

Desmarteau started working full-time in the department’s fire prevention office in 2002. He’s spent the bulk of his career teaching fire prevention and safety to nearly 50,000 kids across Northeast Ohio through various programs.

“I know that safety is an important topic to teach people because when you see these tragedies taking place out there across the world, some of these could be prevented by having an idea in the back of your mind, what to do if something happens,” said Desmarteau. “So when it does happen, you react to it and hopefully you and your family get out of that event safely.”

Desmarteau also worked with News 5 on a story educating people about the important differences between smoke alarm types. The topic eventually went national when ABC News picked it up after News 5’s story aired.

“That's what's been so productive, using you folks as a messenger to get into the homes of Northeast Ohio to let people know that critical difference between the types of technologies to best protect them and their loved ones in their home where we should feel the safest,” said Desmarteau. “It's that partnership that we have everyone working together for everyone's best interest.”

Even though his work has spread far and wide, Gelgas said Desmarteau has always been right there for his teammates when they needed him.

“Maybe he wasn't part of the call but he would show up on it anyways and make sure to help. So he was just one of those guys that was always dependable,” said Gelgas.

The only thing that has slowed Desmarteau down over the years was the heart attack he suffered last June.

“I thought for sure I was coming down with COVID like all the other millions of people across this world, and then til my son came home and said, ‘Hey, Dad, are you okay?’ I said, ‘I'm just not feeling right,’ and he goes, ‘Dad, you’re scaring me,’” said Desmarteau.

Desmarteau went to MetroHealth hospital for treatment where they discovered he has two 100% blockages in his heart.

“I had a widow maker heart attack that I didn't even recognize that I was having, and ultimately those fine people down there saved my life,” said Desmarteau.

But even that couldn’t keep him away from his life’s calling.

“Within five weeks I went back on the job on light duty doing my fire prevention detail,” said Desmarteau. “A lot of these professional athletes could win all the accolades of a Super Bowl or World Series, but there's nothing like working together to save a human life, and there's no better feeling.”

During his retirement, Desmarteau hopes to create a facility where people of all ages can learn safety tips about how to protect themselves in their homes.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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