By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - Mike Ertz began and ended his career as the city's fire chief with one goal in his mind - to provide the best fire service for the residents he served.
Chief Ertz, credited with expanding the department's staff and services in his 20 years at the helm of the city's fire and rescue department, died Aug. 20 at his home after a long battle with colon and bone cancer.
The 61-year-old first took the lead in 1983, when the city only had two fire stations. In his time as fire chief, he modernized the community's fire services by building and staffing three more fire stations and implementing new programs within the department.
The chief's colleagues remembered him as "a visionary."
"Mike was an extremely strong advocate for the citizens of Port Orange," Ken Burgman, deputy director of fire services, said of the late fire chief. "He always fought for what was right for the citizens, even if it wasn't accepted in the mainstream."
Mr. Burgman said Chief Ertz expanded the city's paramedic program to an advanced life support service model, initiated a public safety education program, and successfully advocated for residential sprinkler systems within the city. He also helped Port Orange's fire department become one of the first in the state to institute a flu shot program and utilize trucks with computerized reporting systems for dispatch and mapping information.
In addition, the late chief was an early advocate of consolidation within fire departments. He was instrumental in joining the cities of Port Orange, New Smyrna Beach and Edgewater together for a unified dispatch service known as the Regional Communications Center, which operated until Volusia County took over dispatch services last year.
"Mike was a big proponent of municipalities working together," Mr. Burgman said. "(RCC) was a functional consolidation through sharing resources."
Chief Ertz retired in 2003.
City Manager Ken Parker described Chief Ertz as an "exceptional leader." What stood out to him most about the chief was his passion for fire service.
"Mike was always looking for opportunities to provide services for our residents and to the public in general," he said.
The city manager said Chief Ertz's death marks "a great loss to our community."
"He was a trusted friend and a good advisor," Mr. Parker said.
The chief's brother-in-law, David Cobert, Lt. Col. (ret.), U.S. Marine Corps, also spoke kindly of his service. To him, Chief Ertz served with "the same pride, honor and devotion to duty as anyone who has worn a military uniform."
"... We as citizens are grateful to you and your fellow firefighters who protect our communities and our homes and earn the title as fellow comrades in arms," Mr. Cobert said in a tribute to the chief.
Chief Ertz, a native of Reading, Pa., began his career as a volunteer firefighter in Central Square, N.Y. in 1968. He moved to Virginia in 1973 and became a paid firefighter with Prince William County, rising up to the rank of captain.
He left Prince William County in 1981 and became an instructor with the Florida Fire College in Ocala. He achieved his dream job of fire chief when Port Orange hired him in 1983.
Chief Ertz also served as president of both the Volusia County Fire Chiefs Association and the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. He taught firefighting and fire management classes at Daytona State College.
He enjoyed playing golf and spending time with his family.
Chief Ertz is survived by his wife Kathy, his children Michael, Melissa, Matthew and Kristin, and four grandchildren.
A memorial service in his honor was held Aug. 24 at Lohman Funeral Home in Port Orange.