In 1987, at the age of 15, Scott Goldstein began a career in firefighting as a volunteer at the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department. Little did he know, that decision would start a more than three decadelong career of helping people in Montgomery County, Maryland, during times of need.
On Friday, his career of service to the county will come to a close as he retires from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue and moves his family to the west coast to be closer to his wife’s family.
It’s a big move, especially since Goldstein has called Montgomery County home for all but one year of his life. He was born at Holy Cross Hospital and graduated from Wheaton High School. Unlike many other career firefighters, he had no family ties to firefighting. Instead, Goldstein’s interest in the fire service began with his fascination of firetrucks as a kid.
“I traded extra chores around the house with my mom, so that I could barter rides and have her take me to different fire station events or different fire activities that, practically and frankly, I couldn’t get to on my bike,” Goldstein told WTOP.
At the age of 19, Goldstein moved from a volunteer to a career as a county employee, which would take him to several positions within the fire department, including serving on Maryland Task Force One, a specialized urban search and rescue team. In 2015, he landed the lead role at Montgomery County Fire and Rescue.
Goldstein has responded to many disasters over his career, including the Pentagon on 9/11, a fire in 2014 that destroyed the Gables Upper Rock Apartments in Rockville, and numerous natural weather disasters. As chief, he led the response to multiple building explosions and even a plane getting stuck in high voltage power lines.
“Those events make little markers in your brain,” Goldstein said.
His career led him to his wife Heidi, whom he met after the Oklahoma City bombing. She was an intern with FEMA at the time.
“Disasters have brought us together,” Goldstein said.
They started a family in the county, but, according to Goldstein, the plan has always been to eventually move closer to his wife’s family. Now, that time has come.
While retiring from Montgomery County, Goldstein has no plans to stop working. Instead, he’ll lead Cowlitz County Fire and Rescue in Kelso, Washington, beginning in July.
Goldstein said he has gained a lot of experience serving Montgomery County, which on one end is home to an agricultural reserve and elsewhere has dense urban areas with buildings that are more than 30 stories high. It’s experience that he looks forward to in taking on his new position.
As Goldstein looks back on his time with the county’s fire department, he said his role in getting paramedics at every firehouse is one of his proudest achievements. He said he helped start the process in 2006 when he took a staff position, and 12 years later the goal was met at all 35 county fire stations.
“That was a substantial … step in the organization for firefighter safety, for resident protection, because each station now had a paramedic and thus, each crew had a paramedic as part of their shift. And each resident across the street from a firehouse was equally protected,” Goldstein said.
He also said he’s truly touched by the gratitude of Montgomery County residents who’ve sent cards or stopped by to thank him and his team.
He said hearing “that work our folks are doing is amazing” is what really makes his day.
As for regrets, while Frank Sinatra may have “a few,” Goldstein said he has none.
“No regrets and [I’m] glad to have had the opportunity with the residents, businesses, the folks in the community,” Goldstein said.
His advice to the person who will take his place is to remember that being the chief is like a customer service job.
“This is a people-based job,” he said. “Everybody who we call and go to their assistance, they are a customer and that is how we need to treat, focus and recognize everybody.”
He also said calls for service continue to rise each year, and the next leader needs to be able to help the organization keep up with that.
Also, when it comes to the fire and rescue workforce, which is 2,700 members strong, he said it needs to continue to evolve and embrace the diversity seen in the county’s communities.
“That’s one of the things that we need to draw upon as an organization, to get our workforce and our member base to try to be reflective of and to be identifiable to match our community,” Goldstein said.
His final message to the community, besides saying thank you, was also his first message as chief, and it’s one of safety.
“Always check your smoke alarm.”
Goldstein’s last act as chief will be graduating a new group of fire and rescue recruits on Friday evening.