Oklahoma City’s fire chief, Richard Kelley, is a born-and-raised, bonafide Oklahoman who graduated from Moore High School, Rose State College and Oklahoma State University – OKC. He began his firefighting career at the Will Rogers Airport Fire Department, and has been with the OKC Fire Department since 1991. He was appointed chief in 2017 after rising through the ranks, holding prior positions like special operations coordinator, battalion chief and deputy chief of operations. Along with his role as chief, Kelley is a fire instructor, EMT, hazmat technician, dive team member and an active participant in a variety of associations related to his field. On top of that, he is on the boards of a handful of nonprofits around OKC and has been recognized with a slew of awards through his celebrated career. Outside his job, Kelley loves spending time with his wife, Liz, his five children and two grandchildren. We caught up with Kelley and got his thoughts on … 

… the pull to this vocation. 

Although I had a few encounters with firefighters growing up – my uncle was a volunteer firefighter – I never knew that would be my calling. During my time at Rose State College, I was studying business, more specifically accounting, but I knew this was not where God was leading me to serve.  As fate would have it, I had several friends that were testing for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, and they shared the flier detailing the application process. From the moment I started researching this vocation, I knew this is where I was being called. On my second attempt for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, I made it to the occupational physical, which is the last step. Unfortunately, I failed my physical and had to wait for the next process; this is where the Will Rogers Airport Fire Department came into the picture. One year later, after testing at multiple fire departments, I was offered a job at Oklahoma City and I started Recruit Class 91-1.  

… the pressures of being chief. 

Thirty years later, I still thank God every day for the opportunity to serve my community. Although my career has challenged me at all levels, the blessings far outweigh any negative moments. In my current position, each day is challenging and humbling, but also very rewarding. I begin each day with some type of physical activity. I enjoy working out. We have a saying in the department: “Every day is a training day, and every day is a physical fitness day.” As a leader, I strive to empower those around me and prepare others to take my place. That sounds like a book answer, but it is my focus. No two days are alike in the world of emergency response, so I must be adaptive and willing to change.

… his main goal.

My focus is to achieve our vision statement, which is “building a premier fire department.” This takes on many aspects, but the three main areas of focus pertain to risk reduction, innovative emergency response and inclusiveness that exceeds the expectations of our community.

… the pandemic.

COVID-19 has definitely changed the way we do business as a fire department. Our organization is right at 1,000 uniformed firefighters and civilian staff who operate at 42 different work sites, so clear and consistent communication can be a challenge. The pandemic demanded alternative communication strategies, so Microsoft Teams became the tool of choice. This provided a platform to communicate with all firefighters in real time, from top to bottom. This created transparency and open dialogue as we navigated the challenges of response, service and lessons learned from providing care to COVID-positive patients. We learned that we must be innovative and forward thinking at all levels to serve our community.

… the bottom line.

In 2019, the OKCFD completed 130 years of service to the community, and each day we must strive to be better than the last. Our job is not about net income or stock dividends – it’s about lives lost or lives saved. When you think about it at that level, it can be daunting, but if we manage each day and focus on improvement, we will meet the needs of our customers.