New KC Fire Chief worked his way up from the bottom

Jim Cunningham
July 02, 2018 - 6:01 am

KMBC Channel 9 News


In 150 years, thousands of men and women have served with the Kansas City Fire Department. Only 26 have held the title of chief. 

Gary Reese was named Fire Chief March 14, replacing Paul Berardi, who retired. Reese is not native to the area.

"I basically grew up as a farm kid north of Seattle, Reese said. "I chopped a lot of wood -- had no idea I'd become a truckman and be chopping holes in roofs."

Reese joined the military. After Desert Storm, he lived in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri before winding up in Kansas City.

"I went to take a lady home, on an ice storm, that my wife worked with," Reese said. "She asked me if I had strong legs."

Reese said he didn't know what she meant by that question. She told him men with strong legs can be firefighters -- her husband was a battalion chief.

Reese's applications were rejected twice before he was hired in March 1995. He has served as firefighter, apparatus operator, captain and division chief, where he oversaw operations at the 911 Communications Center.

Chief Reese has served both sides of the labor and management partnership as a chief and as secretary-treasurer for Firefighters Local 42. 

"Honestly, the union experience was amazing," Reese said. "The labor-management process we use is so inclusive that I really feel like I knew what I was stepping into."

One responsibility the new chief takes very seriously is fireground safety.

"We're currently doing a training piece with a flame simulator, where we bring our companies in to talk about fireground communications -- what kind of nominclature to use, how we identify different danger situations."

Maintaining the health and well-being of personnel is another priority.

"We've been dealing with the PTSD crisis and how to manage that," Reese said. "We're always seeking better ways to take care of our folks."

The chief oversees the activity of more than 1,100 uniformed personnel. With a large organization, delegation is a must.

"You really depend on people like your assistant chief, your deputy chiefs, your batallion chiefs, your division chiefs, to take care of each one of their respective areas," Reese said. "You just trust that they know what to do."


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