Birmingham swears in new fire chief

Chief to navigate era of wild weather, active shooters

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published August 19, 2019

 Former Assistant Fire Chief  Paul Wells was formally promoted to chief and sworn into the  position Aug. 5.

Former Assistant Fire Chief Paul Wells was formally promoted to chief and sworn into the position Aug. 5.

Photo provided by Kevin Byrnes, communications director for the city of Birmingham


BIRMINGHAM — With 21 years with the Birmingham Fire Department under his belt, there’s a good chance that if you’re a Birmingham resident, you’ve seen firefighter Paul Wells around town.

Now you can go ahead and call him chief.

Wells was sworn in as the new Birmingham fire chief Aug. 5 following the retirement of former Chief John Connaughton. Wells was hired into the department in 1998 as an emergency medical technician and firefighter, and he worked his way up through the ranks to EMS coordinator, lieutenant, captain and assistant chief.

“It was a natural fit,” Wells said of the appointment. “I’ve been training the assistant chief to take my job for the past six months while learning my new role at the same time. But everyone here has made it an easy transition. We have a good relationship.”

In addition to being a licensed paramedic, Wells graduated from Columbia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in fire administration and earned a certification from the Eastern Michigan University Fire Staff and Command Leadership program. According to a press release, Wells was instrumental in kickstarting the department’s Advanced Life Support transport program and has participated in at least a half-dozen CPR saves in Birmingham.

He’s also a husband and a father to two kids.

First on his to-do list as chief was to make a few promotions himself, bumping up a captain and, of course, showing new Assistant Chief Matt Bartalino the ropes. That was a fairly easy transition too, since Wells and Bartalino have worked together for some time. A couple of years ago, the two were working a shift together and responded to an emergency where they performed a successful cardiac defibrillation, saving the life of a 40-year-old father.

“It’s been interesting making the transition from labor to management,” said Bartalino, who was sworn in as assistant chief just after the new year while Wells filled in as interim chief. “There have been challenges here and there, but this has been a work in progress for a while.”

Within just a couple of weeks of his new gig, Wells had the opportunity to oversee all of the preparations for one of the city’s biggest events of the year: the Woodward Dream Cruise.

“It’s been a busy week for us,” Wells said with a laugh before the event. “But we know the drill. We’re planning on having extra personnel on hand, and we’ve been doing some tabletop exercises to prepare for a potential influx of patients, to see the best routes to get to (emergency sites). We’ll have the fire marshal over here to make sure we’re all ready, and we’ll help the vendors set up safely. It’s definitely a big deal.”

Now that the cruise is over, Wells said, he can settle in and implement some of the changes he’s been eyeing since he was second in command.

“We’ve got young (firefighters) and a young assistant chief, so part of my role is helping them get into their new roles,” he explained. “Then I’d love to bring in some new technology, new ideas.”

Wells and Bartalino have both been putting in extra hours with other agencies around southeast Michigan to get emergency manager training — a task Wells saw his predecessor take on during the flood of 2014.

“My job is to coordinate state and city officials and make sure operations run well,” he said. “And it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see something else. These days, with so many active shooter events and, in my opinion, weather events occurring on a larger scale, we’ve been doing a lot of training and tabletop exercises to be prepared and mitigate damage from these types of events.”