DANVERS — The career Kevin Farrell dreamed of since childhood reached its peak yesterday when he was named Danvers fire chief.

"Ever since I was a young kid, I wanted to be a firefighter," said Farrell, a 47-year-old Danvers native and 1981 graduate of Danvers High.

Farrell, who became a firefighter in 1988, rose through the ranks to become deputy chief in 2005, and then over the past year, he served as acting chief.

Nearly one year to the day after former Chief James Tutko retired, Town Manager Wayne Marquis yesterday announced the appointment of Farrell as Tutko's permanent replacement. Farrell becomes the town's fifth fire chief since 1925.

"Kevin was selected from a field of four candidates, all of whom participated in a rigorous Civil Service-approved assessment center process," Marquis said in a statement. Marquis declined to say who else applied; all are Danvers firefighters.

Farrell said he met with Marquis when he was first hired as a firefighter, and he recalled being asked what Marquis could expect of him in 10 years.

"I told him I'd be chief," Farrell said. "I'm a little behind schedule, but I never lost sight of the goal."

Growing up, Farrell was influenced by the 1970s TV show "Emergency," which chronicled a pair of Los Angeles County paramedics as they responded to calls.

Farrell's love of the Danvers Fire Department was sparked by his boyhood friendship with former fire Chief Leland Martin Jr. and former Deputy Chief Richard Wessell. Martin was chief from 1973 to 1991.

Farrell's mom, Shirley Farrell, worked for the town in various capacities, and Farrell spent a lot of time hanging out at the fire station. He remembers Martin taking him for a ride on the town's first white "Moby-Dick" LaFrance firetruck when it arrived. Farrell said Martin even wanted to take him out to see the great Chelsea fire in 1973, but his mother refused to wake him because he had school the next day.

With the goal of becoming a firefighter, Farrell became a civilian dispatcher in the Police Department in 1985 doing both police and fire dispatch. After becoming a firefighter, he earned the rank of lieutenant in 1996 and deputy chief in August 2005.

Farrell said the appointment took a year because it was the first time the town used the assessment center process, instead of a test, to fill a vacancy. Marquis said the assessment center lasted an entire day and involved a team of four or five assessors putting candidates through their paces, including role-playing and homework.

"It's a time-consuming process," Marquis said.

Farrell's qualifications include a 2009 bachelor's degree in fire science from Ana Maria College in Paxton and a 1989 associate's degree in fire science from North Shore Community College. He has been a certified hazardous materials technician since 1990.

As acting chief, Farrell was in charge last July when the department moved to a 24-hour shift schedule.

"It's working out really well," Farrell said, adding that overtime has remained within budget.

Farrell said his long-range goal is to bring the department into the future.

"I look forward to the challenge of using new technologies," said Farrell, who is investigating a system that would allow residents to create a secure, online layout of their homes to help firefighters in case of a fire.

In the near term, Farrell plans to update the department's policies and procedures and get his firefighters in shape. Lt. Marc Smorczewski recently attended a training symposium in New Hampshire that showed how firefighters can use fire equipment for workouts.

"My job in the long term is to cut down on on-the-job injuries," said Farrell, who has enrolled in a Danvers Recreation program called "Couch to 5K!" aimed at getting participants in shape to run a 5K road race.

Farrell, who lives in Danvers, is a former Groveland resident who is separated from his wife of 25 years, Jodi Farrell.

"She was always very supportive," Farrell said. He was also thankful for the support from his three children: Keith, 23, a graduate of Connecticut College; Leanne, 22, a graduate of Roger Williams University; and Matt, 15, a sophomore at Pentucket High. His kids "put up with my studying over the years," Farrell said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.

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