Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell retires Friday after 24 years with the department, 10 of them as fire chief.
Blackwell, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, began his fire service career in 1970 when he joined the Air Force and was sent to their fire protection school in Rantoul, Illinois. While there, he was trained to become an aircraft firefighter and about structural firefighting. His four-year tour included assignments in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Okinawa, Japan; and Texas. He moved to Wichita in 1974.
Highlights from Blackwell's career in the fire service:
- 1974: Wichita Mid Continent Airport safety officer
- 1975: Wichita firefighter
- 1989: Deputy fire chief
- 2001: Fire chief in Prince George’s County (Maryland)
- 2004: Fire chief in Anne Arundel County (Maryland)
- 2007: Fire chief of Wichita Fire Department
In 2007, Blackwell returned to Wichita to become the city’s 13th fire chief. He is the department's first African-American fire chief.
“I had an expectation for everyone in the department on a daily basis to look for ways to make our fire service better," Blackwell says of his legacy. "I also stressed the importance of safety. Firefighting has often been considered one of the more dangerous jobs anyone could ever undertake. Wichita has always been very supportive of its fire department and its firefighters. I would hope as it relates to a legacy that, the Blackwell years, if you will, were about improving our service, enhancing our member safety and making the best use of new and existing resources."
Looking back on his decades in the fire service, Blackwell says the people he hired today are "brighter, smarter, and they keep getting better."
"That's not to take away from those I entered the service with and those who have gone before me," he says. "There have always been outstanding, caring, compassionate, wonderful people who have worked for the fire department here in Wichita and I am very proud to be associated with them.”
Hear Carla Eckels' full conversation with Chief Blackwell at the audio link above.
Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.
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