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Mayor Donchez Chooses Novatnack to be Next Fire Chief

35-year Bethlehem Fire Department veteran selected to take reins after mayor's first choice decided to retire.

Robert W. Novatnack, right, with now retired Fire Chief George Barkanic (Bethlehem Fire Department Website)
Robert W. Novatnack, right, with now retired Fire Chief George Barkanic (Bethlehem Fire Department Website)

Mayor Bob Donchez announced Monday that he has picked Acting Fire Chief Robert W. Novatnack to stay on as Bethlehem fire chief permanently.

Novatnack previously served as deputy fire commissioner and emergency management coordinator for the city. Novatnack has also been the city’s fire marshal.

“Commissioner Novatnack’s 30-plus years serving the city’s fire department, his remarkable work ethic and emergency management experience aligns with my vision of public safety,” Donchez said in an emailed news release.

Donchez had in mid-December announced that Jacqueline Lilley-McCammon was his choice to be the city’s next fire chief, which would have made her the first woman fire chief in Bethlehem’s history.

But by the end of the month, Lilley-McCammon, who was the first female firefighter, fire captain and assistant fire chief in city history, had changed her mind and decided to retire from the department after 24 years. A possible cut in salary with taking the chief’s job may have had something to do with her decision.

Novatnack joined the Bethlehem Fire Department in April 1979 as a firefighter. Novatnack was promoted to fire lieutenant in March 1998, fire captain in October 2003, administrative HAZ-MAT training captain in 2000, and has served as assistant fire chief since February 2006. 

A Bethlehem native, Novatnack and his wife live in the city and have two children.

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