By Jeff Gallatin
For retiring North Olmsted fire Chief Tom Klecan, the numbers have added up to a good career.
Klecan, who is retiring Friday after 34 years in the department, ends it having served the second longest time as chief of the department. He became acting chief in 2002, and was made permanent chief in January 2003. His nearly 12-year stint at the top is second only to Ray Bement, who was chief of the department for 17 years.
In addition to his time as chief, Klecan was also promoted to lieutenant in 1984, captain in 1991 and assistant chief in 1999. He also was the lead fire investigator for major fires such as the North Olmsted High School fire in September 1990 and the Danny Boy’s Market fire in 1991.
“They’ve been good years. I’ve always appreciated statistics and numbers and how they can play a role in the job,” he said. “There were times when I can tell you, time seemed to stand still. It seems this part of the job has come all too quickly.”
Klecan said he can still remember parts of his first day on the job in 1979.
“I was sworn in in Old Town Hall, which was just Town Hall then,” he said. “Most of the city business was run out of three houses where the current parking lot for City Hall is now. On the way back to old Fire Station No. 1, where Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies is now, we got a fire alarm call to the old May Co. That was my first fire call, a false alarm at the mall. We had a lot of those through the years.”
Klecan noted several major fires in his time on the department, citing the old North Olmsted Municipal Bus Garage fire in 1981, the high school fire in 1990, the Danny Boy’s fire in 1991, the Carlton Park and Kings Path fires in 1997, as well as dealing with Superstorm Sandy.
Klecan said the high school fire and the Danny Boy’s Market fires were notable because they were almost exactly a year apart and he had to investigate both.
“The high school one was notable because of the huge impact on the community,” he said. Current police Chief Jamie Gallagher was the first one on the scene for the police department, and he called just about everybody out.”
Gallagher said he remembered it well.
“It was my first midnight shift after getting promoted to sergeant,” he said. “Then-detective (later, police chief) Wayne Wozniak and Bud Branscum got there fast too and Tom was handling the local investigation for the fire department.”
Gallagher said the fire showed what a fine investigator Klecan is.
“He’s very sharp and really focuses on details,” Gallagher said. “In investigation classes we’ve had, Tom is very sharp. If he hadn’t been a firefighter, he would have been a fine police officer. That high school fire is a great example of teamwork, because the city police and fire worked closely with the state fire marshal’s office to solve it.”
Klecan said he remembers details like an overturned oil lamp, items from a school office in the fire ignition area.
“I told our chief something was clearly wrong and we called in the state fire marshal’s office,” he said. “It took a couple of months, but we tracked it to a couple of teenagers and they were sentenced for it. The Danny Boy’s was electrical, but so many people went there and it was just about a year after the high school fire. And Superstorm Sandy was something just because we had to deal with so many weather-related issues for several days.”
Gallagher, safety service Director Scott Thomas and Mayor Kevin Kennedy all cited Klecan’s leadership abilities.
“When you’re at a fire scene, Tom will take control and assess a situation very quickly,” Gallagher said.
“Tom is very adept at understanding what needs to be done in different situations and how to get it done,” Thomas said. “He also has a great sense of humor which has helped many a situation through the years, and he’s all business when he needs to be.”
Kennedy cited Klecan’s involvement in fire programs.
“Tom has been a strong advocate of fire and injury prevention as well as instituting strong safety programs throughout the city,” Kennedy said. “This department wouldn’t be as strong as it is without him.”
Klecan noted he has seen the advent of many new fire technologies during his years.
“When I first moved into the city, my house had a newfangled device called a fire detector,” he said. “We formed the Westshore Investigation Unit and the Westshore Hazardous Material Unit, which is very important with all the different materials we have to deal with nowadays on the job.”
Klecan said his toughest time as a firefighter was when five firefighters had to be laid off several years ago while the city, like most others, battled the economic effects of the Great Recession.
“They’re all good firefighters. Two had just had babies born, and they’re getting laid off,” Klecan said. “The good news is, they’re all back. One came back when somebody else retired, and we got the other four back through a federal grant.”
Klecan said the department will be in good hands with the new chief, Ed Schepp.
“He’s a professional with a lot of knowledge,” Klecan said.
Klecan said he’s still planning his next move.
“I’m going to take a deep breath for a while and clean my house first,” he said.