Springfield fire chief Barry Helmerichs will retire effective next month.
Helmerichs declined comment, but Mayor Jim Langfelder confirmed that the chief, who joined the fire department in 1991 as a firefighter, will retire in April.
"He just felt the time was right," Langfelder said. "He left the department in a better spot than he found it."
In addition, Robert Marfell, division chief in charge of training, retired effective today. Battalion chief Raymond Gillespie retired last week, and sources say that at least one more battalion chief is about to retire.
It’s the largest exodus of command-level staff in the fire department in recent history. Sources said the retirements may be intended to help make room for entry-level firefighters now in training. Due to budget constraints, the city has considered laying off firefighters, and under collective bargaining contracts, the last hired must be the first to be laid off if the city makes staffing cuts in the fire department.
The departure of Helmerichs, as well as other top-level fire officials, caught aldermen by surprise.
"I've never heard of that many people leaving the fire department," said Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan. "My goodness. And I was not aware of these (retirements) until you informed me."
Langfelder appointed Helmerichs fire chief in 2015. It was the second time Helmerichs, 58, had gotten the top job at the fire department. Helmerichs was named chief by former Mayor Tim Davlin in 2010, but he was replaced after Mike Houston became mayor in 2011.
During Helmerichs' second tenure as chief, the fire department achieved a Class 1rating, the highest possible, from the Insurance Services Office, a private entity that rates fire departments. The ratings are used by the insurance industry to set premiums. The department had a Class 3 rating when Langfelder appointed Helmerichs. The department's rating rose to Class 2 last year, and Helmerichs in January received accolades from aldermen when he announced that the department had achieved the Class 1 rating.
"He did what he set out to do, which was to get a Class 1 rating," Langfelder said. "He did it without additional staff, or additional money."
Langfelder said that he hopes to have a replacement named who can take over immediately upon Helmerichs' departure.
"By the time he leaves, hopefully, we'll have someone in place," the mayor said.
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