Gone bass fishing: Mount Shasta fire chief retires after firefighting career of 36 years

Jessica Skropanic
Mount Shasta Herald

Mount Shasta Fire Chief Matt Melo is looking forward to having a hot meal for dinner.

“I can’t tell you how many times dinner has been in the skillet, I get called to (a fire or other emergency) and come home to a cold meal sitting on the counter,” Melo said, laughing. Emergencies don’t keep business hours.

The Mount Shasta native will officially retire on Dec. 26, but he's taking accrued vacation time until then. 

After 36 years of firefighting, he’s ready to leave, said Melo, 53. “I’m just over the politics, (and) waking up in the middle of the night for a (fire or medical call) is really tough.” 

Matt Melo will retire on Dec. 26, 2021 after 18 years as Mount Shasta Fire Department's fire chief.

Medical emergencies made up about 65% of those calls, and many were people he's known for years.

Knowing those who need help can make the job more stressful, said Deputy City Clerk and volunteer firefighter Kathy Joyce, who worked with Melo since 2016. She remembers watching the fire chief do CPR on a baby. "Matt was riding on the gurney, over the top of the child, doing chest compressions. I remember thinking, 'That’s some straight up hero (stuff) right there.' He has been to hell and back. He really is a hero."

Gone fishing

Melo and his wife, Kathy Reno, have been planning Melo’s retirement for some time. They opened a small excavation business a year ago. Melo's immediate plans are to build Melo Excavation.

“I’m also going to wear out my boat," he said. "I love to bass fish. Shasta Lake is one of our favorites; we bring home enough fish to have fish fries and fish tacos for all of our friends and family.”

Matt Melo with his wife Kathy Reno: Melo will retire in December 2021 after 18 years as Mount Shasta Fire Department's fire chief.

Fishing and excavating is how Melo will wait out the next decade before Reno retires. The former Oregon Department of Forestry firefighter works in the radiology department at Mount Shasta Mercy Medical Center.

The couple have been together since 200.

When she retires we may travel, Melo said. “We like to go up to Alaska, to go hunting and fishing.”

Firefighting a family affair

Firefighting is in Melo’s blood. So is the role of fire chief, he said. 

“My uncle Nick Melo was the fire chief in Dunsmuir. My cousin, Wes Melo, was the fire chief in McCloud. My great uncle Frank Melo was the fire chief here (in Mount Shasta) for 52 years.”

But it was his friend Joe Spini — Mount Shasta's fire chief from 1985 to 2003 — who was his mentor. In 1985, Spini took 16-year-old Melo to a controlled burn at an abandoned house on Old Stage Road, where Mount Shasta Fire Protection District Station 2 is now. That’s when Melo said he “fell in love” with firefighting.

That year, Melo joined the fire department's Explorer Program for youths ages 12-18 to study firefighting. He and other teens helped with clean up, putting away hoses and other tasks after adult firefighters did their work.

Spini also encouraged Melo to study fire science at Butte College and College of the Siskiyous, which he did. 

After college, Melo worked as an equipment operator at public works while also serving as a volunteer firefighter in the 1990s.

He was appointed fire chief in 2003, the only paid position in the department at the time. Volunteers did the rest 18 years ago, but staffing changed with the times. “Volunteers are hard to come by now,” Melo said. “You're volunteering to have another unpaid job is what it boils down to, with all the new training (required).”

Read more:These two longtime fixtures on Mount Shasta City staff are leaving soon

During his career, Melo and his staff won close to $1 million in grants, with most of the money going for safety gear and personnel, he said. Now Mount Shasta's fire department has seven paid positions, including the chief’s.

“I had a great career and great backing from the community, my (family) and the people working in the department,” he said. “They made me look good.”

Melo's departure follows that of Mount Shasta Public Works Director Rod Bryan, who left the city in July to work at PACE Engineering.

Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.