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This story was updated on Feb. 15, 2013.

Montgomery County fire chief Richard R. Bowers Jr. is headed across the Potomac River.

After 35 years with the county, Bowers said he is taking a “unique” opportunity to become the new Fairfax, Va., fire chief.

“I’ve learned and grown in Montgomery County, and I’d like to be able to do the same in Fairfax,” he said.

Bowers, 55, will officially retire from Montgomery on May 1 — the county only permits retirement on the first of the month — and said he will draw full benefits once he is gone.

Bowers starting salary in Fairfax will be $187,500, slightly below his Montgomery salary of $190,000.

Taking the job in Fairfax was not about money, Bowers said.

He said he had no intention of leaving his position with Montgomery County when Fairfax reached out and asked him to consider becoming a candidate for Fairfax fire chief.

But the opportunity to lead another department in the same metropolitan area was a unique one that Bowers said will allow him to bring his expertise to Fairfax as well as learn from a new department.

Choosing to leave Montgomery after 35 years was not a decision Bowers reached lightly. Having started his career with the county almost right out of high school, Bowers worked his way up in Montgomery’s fire and rescue service to become its fire chief in 2008.

“It was an extremely emotional and difficult decision,” he said. “My roots are obviously here. I’ve grown up here, lived here, worked here.”

But he said, “what’s important is what you leave behind.”

Bowers, a Frederick County resident, will leave Montgomery with a reputation as one of the region’s premier fire departments, with a new revenue stream from the ambulance transport reimbursement program that began Jan. 1, and with improved relationships between career and volunteer firefighters, he said.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said the county wishes Bowers well in his new post.

“He’s done a great job with us in Montgomery County,” Leggett said. “We wish him well in this.”

On Tuesday , the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors appointed Bowers as its next fire chief, according to a statement from Fairfax County government.

Bowers will take over for Chief Ronald L. Mastin, who is expected to retire May 7. Bowers is scheduled to assume his duties April 29 — overlapping time with Montgomery will be taken as leave, he said.

“Fairfax County welcomes Chief Bowers to the Fairfax County leadership team and we’re very excited to have him on board,” said Sharon Bulova, chairwoman for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

She said Bowers was selected in a process that began six months ago from a list of more than 40 applicants. A panel that included fire chiefs from neighboring counties and employee organizations including fire and rescue unions reviewed the applicants.

Bowers was “unanimously” the top choice of the panel, she said, adding that Bowers “had just an exceptional reputation among Northern Virginia jurisdictions.”

Bowers currently serves as chairman of the Fire Chiefs Committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He said he expects to continue to serve on that committee once he transfers to Virginia.

Gazette Staff Writer St. John Barned-Smith contributed to this report.