A time to heal: Steamboat fire chief resigns for medical reasons
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart announced his resignation Wednesday following a slow recovery from a head injury.
Since September 2019, Stewart has been on medical leave after he was thrown off his horse during a ride in the town of Eagle, south of Steamboat. He had just saddled the horse and started to ride when the animal bucked.
“Next thing I know, I’m sitting in the front seat of my truck wondering what happened,” Stewart said.
After a friend drove him back to Steamboat for a medical evaluation, Stewart was flown to a hospital in Aurora. Doctors diagnosed him with a hematoma, or bleeding in his brain. The bleeding eventually stopped on its own, Stewart said, but side effects, like fatigue and general malaise, have persisted.
He has been splitting his time between Steamboat and Missouri, where he has a house on the Lake of the Ozarks. The lower elevation has been helpful in his rehabilitation, Stewart said.
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“Some days are better than others,” he said.
His decision to step down as fire chief came after a consultation with his neurologist and other health experts, who determined it could take years before Stewart fully recovers. Leaving his position gives him more time to focus on getting better and spending time with family.
Stewart has been with the local fire department since 1997. In that time, he has witnessed many changes to the department and served in various leadership roles. He has been the fire chief for the last eight years and overseen improvements to emergency services, such as expanded medical capabilities.
While it is difficult to leave the fire department, particularly not as he planned, Stewart said the decision ultimately is best for everyone.
“I need to let those guys move on and move on myself,” Stewart said.
Interim Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli, who has been filling in for Stewart during the past eight months, will continue serving in that position until a replacement can be found.
Stewart applauded Cerasoli’s ability to step into the leadership role in such an unexpected way, particularly working under the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In my opinion, he has done an amazing job,” Stewart said of his longtime coworker and close friend.
In a news release, city officials said they plan to conduct interviews for the fire chief position in the coming months. Cerasoli is considering applying for the job but has not made a decision yet.
Looking back on his years working with the former fire chief, Cerasoli described Stewart as a consistent leader and hard worker who leaves behind a strong legacy at the fire department.
“We can find another chief. We can find someone with the qualifications and everything,” Cerasoli said. “But we will never truly replace Mel.”
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