Oklahoma City's new fire chief hits the ground running
September has historically been good to Fire Chief Richard Kelley.
It's the month he started working as a firefighter. It's the month he was hired by Oklahoma City. It's the month he was first promoted to officer. And it's the month he became the city's fire chief.
On Sept. 29, Kelley, 47, succeeded Keith Bryant as Oklahoma City's top firefighter, a promotion 27 years in the making.
Kelley graduated Moore High School in 1988 and went to Rose State College as an accounting major.
"I wanted to be an accounting major, and then I realized I can't count," he said.
Kelley went on to finish his associate's degree at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City in municipal fire protection.
He was hired as a firefighter for Will Rogers World Airport in September 1990, and by Oklahoma City in September 1991.
After finishing his probationary rotations, he spent five years at Station 18 before being promoted to sergeant in September 1997.
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Over the years, he climbed the ranks, eventually becoming a district chief in 2008. In January 2015, he became a deputy chief and was appointed as interim fire chief when Bryant left in August. That role became permanent when City Manager Jim Couch tapped him for the top job.
Kelley said his best day on the job was when his good friend and colleague Chris Black was promoted to district chief.
"That's probably the days I've felt the best, when I've seen the people I work with and look up to promoted," he said.
And the worst was the day Cpl. Christopher Allen Dill — a fellow firefighter and Moore resident — died on the job, on March 5, 2009. Dill collapsed after fighting a three-alarm apartment fire in southwest Oklahoma City. His death was the first on-duty firefighter death since 1989.
"We grew up in the same neighborhoods. His best friend lived across the street from my best friend, but he was quite a bit older than me," Kelley said.
Kelley is married to Elizabeth Kelley and has three daughters: Mikayla, 23; Johnna, 19; and Addison, 8. He also has two stepchildren: Emily, 25, and Nick, 22.
His first priorities on the job are filling leadership positions in the fire department and preparing for the opening of two new fire stations — Station 29 and Station 38 — in the near future. Oklahoma City fire will also begin to take a proactive approach to hiring, he said.
"Chief Bryant has carried us in a positive direction, and my job and focus is to continue the momentum," Kelley said. "We have to look for opportunities to improve, not just remain status quo on what we do."