Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino named Colorado Chief of the Year, announces retirement
FRISCO — The Colorado State Fire Chiefs named Summit Fire & EMS Chief Jeff Berino the Colorado Fire Chief of the Year during a ceremony Wednesday in Keystone. Berino publicly announced his retirement the same night.
The Colorado State Fire Chiefs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving cooperation among the state’s fire and emergency service agencies, hosted the 2019 Fire Leadership Challenge in Keystone this week. Given the conference’s location, it was fitting that Berino received the award, though it was a surprise.
“It completely blindsided me,” Berino said about learning he’d be given the honor. “I got a call from the state government — the Colorado Department of Public Safety — advising me I’d won. It really took me by surprise. It’s a true honor. It’s been 40 years of a lot of hard work up here.”
Over the past two years, Berino has helped guide Summit Fire through successful mergers with the Summit County Ambulance Service and Copper Mountain Fire. Under Berino, the fire district also completed the construction of a new administration building, achieved an international professional accreditation and oversaw a number of major emergency responses — including last year’s Buffalo Mountain Fire.
“I’m usually not shy, but I’m close to being speechless,” Berino said upon accepting the award from Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. Berino took the opportunity to thank his staff, the district’s board of directors, his family and a number of professional mentors who helped him in his journey as fire chief, including George Mazzotti, the award’s namesake.
For Berino, the award will serve as a fitting cap on a career in public safety. In a news release Wednesday night, Berino announced he’s planning to retire in July 2020.
Berino, 62, began his career as a seasonal wildland firefighter in Massachusetts in 1977. He moved in 1980 to Summit County, where he started as a volunteer firefighter with the Frisco Fire Department, an early precursor to the now consolidated Summit Fire & EMS.
Berino was named deputy chief in 2005 following the merger of three districts into Lake Dillon Fire Rescue and officially took over the role of chief in 2015.
Outside of Summit County, Berino also served as a state-certified incident commander for the Northwest Colorado All Hazards Type III incident-management team and for the Upper Colorado River Federal Type III wildfire team, taking the lead in recent years on emergency responses including numerous regional wildfires and a salmonella outbreak in the Alamosa drinking water.
Berino is also a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program of the National Fire Academy, has served as a college instructor in the field of fire sciences, and has worked part-time as a senior fire investigator with Pie Forensic Engineering and Consulting of Arvada.
“Overseeing now about 100 employees in an organization that has seen ever-rising call volume, Chief Berino has served with distinction and exhibited inspiring leadership qualities, including, perhaps most prominently, his good nature, respect and support from the communities he serves, and his ability to see the big picture,” Summit Fire Board President Jim Cox wrote about Berino.
During his career, Berino also received life-saving awards from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Summit County Ambulance Service, and was awarded the Lake Dillon Fire Medal of Valor for his response to the Ophir Mountain wildfire in 2005.
After a lifetime of fighting to keep the Summit County community safe, Berino said it was time to slow things down.
“It came after a lot of deliberation,” Berino said about his decision. “This May will be 40 years. During that time, I’ve gone through six mergers, new buildings, an accreditation, the merger with the ambulance service and more. It’s time to pass the baton.
“It’s been a true pleasure serving Summit County. It’s gone by awful quick. I’ve hopefully made a difference, and it’s been an honor to serve this community.”
Berino lives in Frisco with his wife, Janis, and said they have no intention of leaving Summit County just yet. Berino said he’s looking forward to getting to ski on powder days or go on a bike ride during summer without having to worry (too much) about the fire danger.
“I want to enjoy Summit County,” Berino said. “I just want to enjoy it for the reasons most of us came out here, to have a little more time to spend outside. So we’ve got no plans on moving.”
Berino said he also wouldn’t be quitting the industry altogether, noting he’ll continue to work part-time as a fire investigator for insurance companies around the country.
“I wouldn’t be here without the outstanding support of my staff, my family, the board of directors and this community,” Berino said. “I’m proud of Summit County. The people here have a vision that’s allowed for mergers and consolidations. We’re a community that’s not afraid of the word change, and I admire that.”
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