Chief Kevin Cartwright, for years the primary spokesman and public face of the Baltimore Fire Department, is retiring at the end of this month to take a public relations position in the private sector.
His city salary of nearly $100,000 is now up for grabs.
Cartwright, who has been a member of the fire department since 1989 and a spokesman since 2002, confirmed his departure on Wednesday.
"I've kind of been entertaining the idea, for a little bit, of pursuing some new challenges," he said. His last day will be March 27.
Cartwright said he is "not quite ready to divulge" the name of his new employer, but said he will be "overseeing emergency management for a private sector organization" in Washington.
Fire Chief James Clack said Cartwright told him of his retirement last week.
"I was actually surprised; happy for him, but surprised he was leaving," Clack said. "It's going to be tough to replace him."
The average member of the fire department retires after 35 years, Clack said. New hires are only eligible for full retirement benefits after 25 years, but employees of Cartwright's "vintage" are eligible under the previous retirement standard of 20 years, Clack said.
Cartwright, 49, graduated from what was then Walbrook High School and entered the department in 1989, working as a paramedic for 11 years in Fells Point. He then was a paramedic instructor at the department's academy for one year, and later became a suppression firefighter for three years, he said.
In 2002, he moved to the department's public information office. "I didn't have a whole lot of expectations but I started learning and got engaged," he said.
He was promoted in 2004 to the rank of battalion chief, and again in 2008, when Clack arrived, to his current rank of battalion commander.
Cartwright's salary for fiscal year 2012 was $92,000, according to salary data posted by the city on its Open Baltimore website.
Clack said the salary range for the position, officially titled "Fire Press Officer," is between $79,400 and $98,200, and the department can negotiate a salary for Cartwright's replacement anywhere within that range.
The job entails wearing multiple hats.
In addition to speaking to reporters and overseeing the department's presence on social media, Cartwright has filled a logistics role for the department, Clack said, helping to coordinate big events like the Baltimore Grand Prix and the Preakness.
"He's involved in a little bit of everything," Clack said. "We need to find somebody who can take on that role."
Clack said Cartwright will stop working at the end of this month and then use vacation time he has stored up as a transition period before taking his new position. During that transition, Clack said Cartwright will assist the department in preparing his replacement.
Clack said the search for that replacement will be conducted in-house, without the assistance of a head-hunting firm.
"I don't think we'll hire a firm, but certainly we're going to try to advertise regionally," Clack said. "I think the region around Baltimore and D.C. has a lot of talent when it comes to media folks."
Cartwright has dabbled in the private sector before. In 2010, he formed and registered Cartwright PR and Media Consulting, LLC, as a public relations firm for which he was president and CEO. In a promotional video for the company on YouTube, Cartwright touted his experience working with local reporters. However, Cartwright said running the business on the side, in addition to his responsibilities for the department was too much, and the company's license has lapsed.
Since 2009, Cartwright has been studying communications and journalism at the University of Maryland University College.
Capt. Roman Clark, an assistant to Clack who often serves as a department spokesman when Cartwright is unavailable, will serve as the department's interim spokesman and communications director while the search for Cartwright's replacement is conducted.
Clark said Cartwright will be missed. "It's going to be a sad day for the department because he's been a stellar employee and truly an outstanding person to work with," he said.
Clack, who became fire chief in 2008, kept Cartwright in the spokesman position after arriving.
"One of the things I looked at when I was considering this job was the media coverage of the department," Clack said, "and I was very impressed with his presence."
Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters' union, said he and Cartwright, by the nature of their jobs, have often been on the opposite ends of many issues.
"He portrays the fire department in the light the fire department wants to be portrayed in," Hoffman said. "He's got a job to do, just like I do."
Still, Hoffman said Cartwright has always maintained a professional relationship with him.
"I'll shake his hand on his way out the door and shake the hand of whoever is taking over," he said.
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