After a 38-year career in the fire service, Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman is preparing for retirement.
Lehman last week announced his plans to retire, effective May 1, from the Grand Rapids Fire Department, where he began serving in 2016. He previously served 29 years with the fire department in Aurora, Illinois, spending his last three years there as fire chief.
City Manager Mark Washington said Lehman will leave a legacy of servant leadership.
“The city has both benefited greatly from Chief Lehman’s hard work and dedication to the Grand Rapids Fire Department,” Washington said. “He has elevated an already superb fire department to one that is nationally recognized and one that is used as a benchmark for all departments striving for excellence.”
During Lehman’s service to Grand Rapids, the department was able to gain national accreditations by the Center for Public Safety Excellence in 2016 and achieved ISO Class 1 in 2018.
Lehman’s leadership also led to the department’s recognition for its residential safety programs and initiative toward home fire community risk reduction. These efforts contributed to the installation of more than 66,000 smoke alarms and nearly 10,000 carbon monoxide alarms in Grand Rapids homes, and the department created an innovative self-installation process for residents when safety restrictions from COVID-19 impacted in-person installations.
According to the city, one of Lehman’s biggest goals was to create a more diverse fire department for Grand Rapids, and the last few classes have been the most diverse in the city’s history. Lehman also worked to mentor the next generation of firefighters by establishing a cadet program and summer youth academy.
In addition, Lehman brought back the city’s division of emergency management, created an assistant chief position, ensured the department was provided with innovative life-saving equipment and training, and served as co-manager of the Michigan-Ohio-Indiana accreditation consortium during his tenure.
Lehman said he considers himself lucky to have served the city and values the work of his entire team.
“Serving the people of Grand Rapids has been a perfect way to conclude my remarkable career in the fire service,” Lehman said. “I want to thank my team of fire professionals, city managers, fellow administrators and staff, mayor, and city commissioners for welcoming me to the city and allowing me to lead this fine department. I also want to express my sincere appreciation to the Grand Rapids community for the many friendships and countless memories made over the past seven years.”
Washington said he will launch a national search in the coming months to fill the fire chief position.
Lehman said he plans to build a retirement home with his wife, Rebekah, on Washington Island, Wisconsin, about 65 miles across the lake from Leland.
In addition, Axel, the fire department’s Labrador-mix fire dog, will retire May 1 along with Lehman. Axel has served the department since July 2019.
Read More: Grand Rapids fire chief to retire – Grand Rapids Business Journal