DFEMS chief Mendiola steps down


Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Commissioner Dennis Mendiola, center, steps down as fire chief after nearly three years of heading the department. (Kimberly B. Esmores)

Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Commissioner Dennis Mendiola has stepped down from his post as fire chief to head the CNMI Department of Homeland Security effective April.

Mendiola said in an interview that it was a personal choice for him to become the special assistant for Department of Homeland Security.

“It was a choice. It was my choice to step down as the commissioner and move over to Homeland Security and be the special assistant,” he said.

Although there is no permanent replacement yet, assistant fire chief Jesse Mesa will serve as interim DFEMS commissioner.

After over two years as DFEMS chief, Mendiola said he feels he has accomplished the mission he set out to do with DFEMS and he is ready to leave knowing they are more than ready to continue to carry out the DFEMS mission on their own.

“It’s an opportunity for me to grow. I think we’ve reached our milestone at DFEMS. I mean, there’s still a lot of issues that we’ve got to tackle, but for the most part, the department’s poised to carry out the mission. So, I saw Homeland Security as an opportunity to grow and it’s where I’m needed now,” he said.

During his tenure at DFEMS, Mendiola said he is proud that he was able to accomplish one of his main goals with the department, which is to give it structure.


“When I came on board, we faced challenges. During all of this, my mission was to kind of separate the department [and] create structure, which involves divisions. We were able to create a structure for the department, reorganize the entire department like separating administration from operation. Now we have an administration building, and then operation is more of just emergency services. The main intent there is really to not infringe on our emergency services. Separating administration from operation can give operation or emergency services the leeway to carry out the mission without any impediment,” he said.

Another accomplishment Mendiola is proud of is that DFEMS was able to acquire over 200 PPEs, which the department has been in dire need of it.

“We had old bunker gear that ranges from 10 years to 15 years, or maybe even more. I think one of the missions was to try and purchase more for the entire fire department,” he said.

Aside from PPEs, Mendiola said DFEMS was also able to renovate all its fire stations under his care, procure water rescue apparatuses, and even get new vehicles.

“There’s been a lot of success in this department. I think one of the biggest reasons we’ve been very successful is because we encourage leadership. We train and groom a lot of leaders in this department to try and become self-sustaining, self-sufficient. This department used to be under DPS and there were a lot of challenges. But now that we’ve became a department, we focused on protocols, policies within the department, making the department stand on its own,” he said.

Mendiola said he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he had without the receptiveness and the support he received from his DFEMS command team.

“I want to thank my team, my command team, they’ve been so outstanding. I just want to thank you for the patience. I know, we had a lot of ups and downs, especially during this pandemic. But I want to make sure that they understand that I appreciate every work that they’ve done for me. Sometimes I can be a little challenging when it comes down to my vision, my plans. Sometimes it’s a ‘just get it done’ kind of commands, but for the most part they got it done, and I’m very happy they’re here and still ready to continue the mission. I also want to thank the community for allowing the department to do its work, for allowing the department to do what it needs to do to try and follow through with the mission statement. I also want to thank our commander, the governor, for allowing me to be here and allowing me to work with the department and grow with this department,” he said.

Mesa said that, thanks to Mendiola, the department has a solid foundation to stand on in terms of carrying out their mission.

“He built a strong foundation and that foundation made this team a lot stronger in cooperating with different divisions, different agencies, and meeting the objectives. …He [leaves] this team strong in character, strong in leadership, and confident to continue to do what they do. Commish, we wish you well,” he said.

Manny Cabrera, assistant fire chief for DFEMS logistic division, said he worked with Mendiola for three or four years, “and pretty much the leadership that he applies to this department is pretty much ‘we’re going to accomplish our mission.’ …He filled the gap we needed to expand our leadership. I just want to wish him good luck on his new position and new department to run. Thank you, commissioner, for your leadership,” he said.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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