Lexington (KY) New Fire Chief is 25-Year Veteran, Son of Firefighter

Firefighter with hydraulic extrication equipment

Beth Musgrave

Lexington Herald-Leader


Jan. 4—A 25-year veteran of the Lexington Fire Departmentwas officially promoted Monday to chief of the state’s second-largest fire department.

Jason Wells, who most recently served as an assistant fire chief, replaces the city’s first female fire chief, Kristin Chilton, who retired the first of January.

He is the 19th fire chief of the department, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021.

“This day is not about me,” Wells said. “This day is about the Lexington Fire Departmentand the community that we serve.”

Wells takes over the department, which also operates the city’s ambulance service, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has temporarily sidelined many firefighters due to exposure to the highly contagious virus. City and fire officials have said the department has been able to staff all fire and ambulance runs despite sometimes high numbers of firefighters in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19.

Wells was picked from 24 applications. Mayor Linda Gortoninterviewed two finalists and selected Wells in early December.

“It’s no surprise that even though we conducted a national search, we found our new fire chief right here,” said Gorton during a small, socially distanced ceremony on Monday at the Lexington Senior Center. “We have one of the best fire departments in the country. I have no doubt Chief Wellswill build on those accomplishments.”

There are challenges ahead, Gorton said. In recent years, the city has expanded fire service, opening a new fire station in Masterson Stationin 2019 to serve that rapidly growing area. It has also added a community paramedicine program that connects frequent ambulance users with primary care or other services, decreasing costs. In addition, the city’s finances have been strained after revenues declined due to coronavirus-related job losses.

Lexington’sfire department has weathered other challenges since its inception 150 years ago, Wells said.

“We are still battling a worldwide pandemic. We have and will continue to face tough economic times. Calls for social justice have echoed through our community and nation,” Wells said. “While these times may seem challenging, and they are, we must maintain perspective. Since the inception of the Lexington Fire Departmentin 1871, members … have witnessed other pandemics, world wars, a Great Depression and tremendous social change. During those times, the Lexington Fire Departmenthas stood strong, always providing selfless service to this great city.”

Wells has a Northern Kentucky Universitybachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of the Cumberlands. He also participated in the Fire Service Executive Development Institute.

He has held various positions in the department during his more than two decades with the city, including assistant chief of prevention and preparedness.

Wells’ ties to the department started long before his career 25 years ago.

He is the son of Jim Wells, who served 27 years with the fire department before retiring as a battalion chief. The elder Wells pinned on his son’s new badge during Monday’s short ceremony.


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