Caribou Fire & Ambulance Chief Scott Susi is stepping down in April to become the Sanford Fire Department's newest chief. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — After two decades serving Caribou residents, Caribou Fire & Ambulance Chief Scott Susi will take up a fresh challenge in southern Maine.

Susi will become Sanford’s new fire and emergency medical services chief later this spring following a national search that began last fall, according to city records. The city’s previous chief, Steven Benotti, retired in January.

The Sanford City Council unanimously approved Susi on March 21 after leaders and public safety officials met with him and nine other applicants.

Susi is the second Caribou leader to announce a move to York County recently. Last week, RSU 39 and SAD 20 Superintendent Tim Doak said he will step down in July to become the York School Department’s new superintendent.

The change will offer a unique challenge for the latter part of his career, Susi said. In Sanford, he will serve a larger department, with 50 fire and emergency medical personnel and three fire stations. Sanford has a population of 21,982 as of 2020, compared with Caribou’s 7,396.

Susi also wants to mentor young firefighters and paramedics, and the Sanford Regional Technical Center offers firefighting and emergency medical certification for area high school students. Engaging young people is crucial because certified first responders are harder to find, he said.

“I couldn’t become a volunteer at first because the roster was full. Now we’re looking for volunteers every day,” Susi said. “There was always somebody waiting in line for the next full-time position to open, but now we have to advertise.”

Susi has a long history in Caribou’s emergency medical services field. After serving in the Maine Army National Guard, he worked as an operating room first assistant at Cary Medical Center.

In the early 2000s, he sought a change. He thought about becoming a nurse until a conversation with his friend Danny Raymond, who was a firefighter and paramedic in Caribou.

“Danny convinced me to apply [as a volunteer firefighter] and bide my time until something came along,” Susi said.

In 2003, Susi became a volunteer firefighter and paramedic while earning his paramedicine degree at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle. He joined Caribou Fire and Ambulance full-time in 2005, serving with captains Steve Sperry, Mark Baker and the late Raymond. Sperry and Baker have retired, and Raymond died March 23 in a vehicle crash.

From his first day, he knew he had found a lifelong career.

“In a hospital, you’re behind the same four walls, but here, you never know what will happen. You can have two cardiac-related calls the same day, but they won’t be the same,” Susi said.

He became chief in 2012. Susi said he is most proud of helping Caribou receive federal funds that allowed the city to purchase new trucks, firefighting gear, breathing apparatus for firefighters and two sets of the “Jaws of Life” rescue tool without using taxpayer money.

Under Susi’s leadership, Caribou Fire & Ambulance received the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s Fire-Based EMS Excellence Award in 2015. Susi was also named the 2015 Maine Firefighter of the Year by The American Legion.

Susi earned the title Fire Officer IV in 2017 from Texas A&M University, the highest credential a firefighter can earn. That same year, the Maine Fire Chiefs Association named him Fire Chief of the Year.

Fire and emergency medical services have changed tremendously. Susi said. In Aroostook, his department responds to more calls concerning senior citizens, substance use and mental health crises, which place more physical and emotional demands on paramedics.

Despite the challenges, Susi enjoyed getting to know Caribou residents, he said. He saw the community’s generosity on display when two fires struck downtown Caribou on the same January day, one of them displacing dozens from Water Street apartments and leading to one resident’s death.

Many community members brought coffee and snacks to the first responders on scene and covering the station that day. Numerous people offered thoughts and prayers.

“To go home that day and know that we had received an outpouring of support from the community was the biggest reward,” Susi said. “Caribou will always be a place to call home.”

Caribou officials have begun reviewing the eight applications they have received so far for Susi’s position. They seek someone who can communicate effectively with emergency personnel and have compassion for those they serve, said City Manager Penny Thompson.

The position of fire and ambulance chief will remain open until the city council has approved a candidate, Thompson said.