Employee spotlight: Joe Tremont
 
Don’t blame Joe Tremont if he’s a little camera shy.

Tremont, the university’s chief fire marshal/interim director of Environmental Health and Safety, once had an experience with a photographer that’s forever etched in his mind. It happened more than 20 years ago when he was a firefighter in Port Arthur.

Propane gas, which is heavier than air, had leaked from a local refinery and settled in a large culvert along a highway. Authorities had to close the road in both directions, then Tremont and two other firefighters went down to blow the volatile gas vapors out of the deep culvert.

“All of a sudden, we see a flash and I immediately start thinking the worse,” Tremont said. “But when we looked up, we saw that somehow a photographer from the local newspaper had slipped through the police lines and was taking a picture of us.”

Tremont spent 17 years with the Port Arthur Fire Department, having joined it a week after graduating from high school. During that time, he earned a degree in occupational safety and health from Lamar University in Beaumont. He left the department in 1993 when his wife, who is a chemist, was offered a job in New Orleans.

After five years in New Orleans, his wife took a job in Houston, and Tremont started applying for jobs. He ended up at the University of Houston after applying for and being offered a job as a fire safety technician. In that role, he was responsible for ensuring all the fire extinguishers on campus were properly working.

He’s also served as a safety specialist at UH, which at the time meant his job duties included doing food inspections and various training courses, including defensive driving and CPR. Later, he became the university’s assistant fire marshal, a post he held until February 2012, when he became the fire marshal.

As fire marshal, he oversees a staff that is being kept busy with all the construction projects on campus.

“New buildings have fire and safety codes that need to be followed. Our department reviews plans to make sure they meet the codes,” Tremont said.

His staff also makes sure fire walls are being built correctly and that sprinkler systems are being installed right and by qualified personnel. At the end of the project, they test all of the fire protection features in the new building to ensure they work correctly.

“When Cougar Village was built, it took us three weeks just to go through the acceptance testing on that building before we would release it to be occupied. Speakers, smoke detectors in every room have to be checked,” he said.

In November, Tremont was named interim director of Environmental Health and Safety. The safety positions for the university at one time had been part of EHS, but were split off and paired with the University of Houston Police Department. When that happened, the fire marshal, assistant fire marshal and deputy fire marshal positions were established.

Recently, the decision was made to put the fire marshal’s office back with Environmental Health and Safety, and so Tremont is helping to oversee that process. Having a firefighter background, he thinks, is making the transition easier.

“When you work as a firefighter, it’s so much more different than other kinds of jobs. You’re like one big family. You learn a lot about teamwork,” he said. “My guys don’t know the word ‘no.’ They step right up to the plate around here.”

Tremont has two grown children: a daughter who is a registered nurse who works in an emergency room, and a son who just graduated from college and has a teaching certificate.

Although he hasn’t been a firefighter in two decades, he still keeps in contact with many of his former co-workers from the Port Arthur Fire Department.

“The friendships and bonds you build as a firefighter last forever,” he said.