GARDINER — Al Nelson, who has been fire chief in Gardiner since 2014, is stepping down in August.

Nelson, who turns 58 this week, said he is ready to slow down a bit.

In his resignation letter to City Manager Christine Landes, Nelson wrote he had mixed emotions.

“The decision was difficult to make, however it is the best decision for me and my family,” he wrote. “I am planning on ‘retiring’ and only working a couple of days a week as a per diem RN.”

Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson, left, talks into his two-way radio during a July 16, 2015, blaze on the fourth floor of 235 Water St. in Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

He said he leaves a Gardiner Fire Department that is respected.

“I’m proud to have been given the opportunity to lead the amazing crew that is the Gardiner Fire Department for the past 6 years,” said Nelson, a Pittston native who lives in Gardiner with his wife, Kate. “During my tenure, I have learned a great deal from my fellow department heads and crew members alike. I will leave the city of Gardiner a better man.”

He also thanked Landes for her leadership and her belief and trust in his abilities.

“I appreciate your guidance, direction and mentoring,” Nelson said. “These are things I will never forget.”

The Gardiner City Council is expected to vote Wednesday to accept his resignation.

Landes said the position has been advertised through the Maine Municipal Association, and she will post it elsewhere this week.

“I don’t know who will take over,” Nelson said, “but they will have some great people to work with.”

Nelson began as fire chief in Gardiner in September 2014.

He had retired from the Augusta Fire Department in 2009 as a battalion chief. In the years between, he had worked as an emergency department nurse at the VA Medical Healthcare Systems-Togus.

During his time in Gardiner as fire chief and emergency management director, the Fire Department battled several significant blazes, including the Feb. 15 fire at Highland Terrace that destroyed the senior housing complex; the July 2015 Water Street fire that destroyed one building and damaged three others; and the December 2018 fire that badly damaged the historic Maine Trust and Banking Co. biulding at 192 Water St.

Highland Terrace has since been rebuilt, and 192 Water St. has undergone extensive renovation.

Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson answers a question about ambulance service funding during the annual Pittston Town Meeting on March 17, 2018, at the Pittston Consolidated School gymnasium. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Nelson replaced Dan Guimond, a former Augusta Fire Department battalion chief, who was named interim fire chief after Mike Minkowsky, who left in March 2014.

When Nelson arrived, he took on the task of ushering through changes to the billing practices of the Gardiner Ambulance Service, which currently serves Gardiner and all or part of seven neighboring communities.

At that time, the service — an enterprise fund that cities and towns use for services for which they charge — had a deficit of $400,000 and was having trouble paying its bills.

With changes in how costs were billed and the company handling the billing, plus a loan from the city’s general fund, the ambulance service was able to recover by the end of 2016.

Nelson said Monday the only debt the service now carries is for the two new ambulances that have been put into service.

During his time at the Gardiner Fire Department, Nelson has been working to add firefighters.

Gardiner’s firefighters are also paramedics or emergency medical technicians, who respond to both ambulance and fire calls. Every year since he has been with the Gardiner department, the number of calls for service has increased to the point the fire station often stands empty.

Nelson has brought at least three proposals to increase department staffing to the City Council. While he has no more firefighters now than when he started, the City Council supported his application for a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, which helps pay the costs of adding new firefighters for a period of time.

While it is not clear the city will receive funding when the grants are announced later this year, city elected officials have committed to hiring an additional firefighter this year.

Nelson said the Fire Department has worked to replace its equipment with more functional models that comply with current standards. It has also worked to improve relationships with the communities with which Gardiner has mutual aid agreements.

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