2015 Fire Chief Of The Year

Lyle N. Koerner, Jr., Eau Claire Fire Department

Lyle N. Koerner, Jr., Eau Claire Fire Department
From Scott St. Martin, Fire Chief/Fire Marshal, City of Hudson, Area 5:
I have known Chief Koerner a little under a year, and in that short period of time he has made a positive impact on me and on my perception and expectations of being a chief/fire marshal. Chief Koerner has taken on the role of my mentor through the Chiefs Association’s mentoring program. One of the many things I have learned thus far is that one must take a holistic approach to being chief by balancing suppression and prevention duties, being the Authority Having Jurisdiction, and fire chief duties. All must share equal importance; one cannot sacrifice one for another. In the past, I have been guilty of, as I suspect many others have, spending the majority of time dealing with suppression-related issues at the price of prevention. I believe this is a gap that can be bridged and that Chief Koerner is doing all he can to bring the prevention perspective to the chiefs’ ranks. Chief Koerner is a true champion of the fire prevention cause. Please take my thoughts and experiences with Chief Koerner as a strong endorsement for him as Chief of the Year for the Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association.

From Michael Laska, Fire Inspector, Eau Claire Fire Department:
Recognized as level-headed and highly skilled as a rookie firefighter in the field in 1983, Chief Lyle Koerner enhanced those attributes as he advanced to different positions at Eau Claire Fire and Rescue. He served as Deputy Chief of Prevention for 2 Yz years and Deputy Chief of Operations for 10 years before becoming Fire Chief in 2011. This diversity of positions aids him in the department’s top spot and particularly in relating to the personnel who fill those positions he once held. Chief Koerner has expressed that knowledge is power, and the most effective department has not just one but rather many people possessingthe knowledge to work together to provide services that exceed the public’s expectations. Never one to seek the spotlight, he quietly leads by example.

As Deputy Chief of Prevention, Chief Koerner worked on reorganizing that division. He led the inspectors in a thorough assessment of the city assessors’ roll to ensure the department was meeting the state mandate of inspecting all residential and commercial property within the city. At his direction as fire chief, this process was repeated in 2012.

Even after moving to the Operations Division and then becoming fire chief, Chief Koerner remains a big proponent of fire prevention. He frequently forwards pertinent information onto the fire inspectors and gives suggestions to incorporate into the prevention program. One recent idea is to purchase a burning house in which young children use a fire hose to put out a fire. This idea is currently being pursued further. Another idea is to have a 10′ blown-up mascot that could be used at special events. He has allowed me and the entire Prevention Division to create fresh prevention concepts to aid in preventing fires and addressing other safety concerns within the city.

Chief Koerner has spearheaded efforts to purchase Tablets for fire crews to access software in the field to view property preplans and to enter inspection information.

Throughout his career, Chief Koerner has always considered the public perception of the fire department. What can the Eau Claire Fire Department do to market itself in the community? He gives much thought to the department being viewed in a positive, professional manner.

Chief Koerner views the department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as avenues through which to promote prevention messages throughout the year and also to give the public a glimpse of other department activities such as training.

Chief Koerner is instrumental in our department’s efforts in water safety education. The department had no water safety education program when he stated to me that more people are being killed in our waterways than in structure fires and that we need to do something about it. That was the impetus for the development of a water safety presentation for the community’s 5t h grade students. He has allowed the Eau Claire Fire Department to be an active community member in the Eau Claire Water Safety Task Force. Within a short period oftime, this task force has conducted many water safety prevention programs.

An issue that arose was a group of young people was conducting fire spinning performances after concerts in the city’s parks. Instead of simply prohibiting the performances, Chief Koerner chose to become educated about the practice by meeting with the group and working with it and other City departments to establish a free permitting process that allows this popular performance to continue.

Recently, the department received the good news that it went from an ISO rating of a 3 to a 2, an accomplishment that was 24 years in the making. In typical fashion, Chief Koerner did not take all the credit for this and in fact sent a thank you e-mail to past key department members who played a role in the realization of this goal. The next step in the process is working towards attaining accreditation status.

In addition to the aforementioned efforts in the area of fire prevention, Chief Koerner, of course, has the responsibility of overseeing all aspects of the Eau Claire Fire Department. Soon after assuming the fire chief position, Chief Koerner recognized that the department faced the departure of senior staff officers with many years of experience in the near future. Seeing it as his duty to prepare the organization to sustain its ability to thrive for decades to come, he placed stronger emphasis on developing personnel for future leadership roles. As part of that process, workloads were evaluated and more tasks redistributed to line officers, thus giving the line officers invaluable experience and allowing staff officers to focus on bigger organizational needs.

Chief Koerner’s actions reflect his strong belief in a succession plan and that a large part of how history views a fire chief is how the department functions after that fire chief departs. If he or she has done the job well, the department will not skip a beat because the chief helped to equip the chief officers with the knowledge base and tools to lead the department well into the future.

As a proponent of higher education, Chief Koerner (who possesses a Master’s Degree in Risk Control and is an EFO graduate), encourages employees to pursue courses and/or degrees for the betterment of both themselves and the department. To that end, an increasing number of employees utilize the City’s tuition support program.

Acknowledging the emotional and physical challenges of a career in firefighting and EMS, Chief Koerner has focused on meeting the 16 life safety initiatives set forth by the Department of Homeland Security. He has concentrated on the topic of suicide prevention among firefighters and paramedics by having several personnel attend awareness classes. He also brought forth the issue of increased firefighter cancer risks and outlined preventative measures that can be taken.

Chief Koerner has always appreciated the value of relationship building beyond Eau Claire Fire and Rescue and of giving the department a voice regionally and statewide. In the past and currently, he serves in many capacities including the WI State Fire Chiefs’ Association Executive Board, the WI Technical College Advisory Board, and the Chippewa Valley Technical College Fire Service Advisory Council. In 2008, the department began providing regional EMS services to surrounding communities. In addition to those 11 contracting entities, financial subsidies are received from the local medical facilities. Chief Koerner plays a key role in renewing the contracts with these EMS partners and meeting regularly to keep the relationships strong to enable the continuation of a high-quality regional EMS delivery system.

Chief Koerner’s past service in the Wisconsin Army National Guard is well-represented in his belief system and actions as the leader of Eau Claire Fire and Rescue. He is punctual, wellorganized, self-motivated, highly responsible ….. and did we mention PUNCTUAL?? He is receptive to subordinates presenting ideas and yet always provides counter points during the discussion in an effort to challenge the employee to develop a concept into the best possible workable idea. However, these suggestions are always made in a respectful, positive manner and never condescending.

We feel Chief Koerner walks the walk when it comes to fire prevention and challenging the fire department to be the best it can be. He is a true advocate for the cause of decreasing injury and death within the community. He deserves to be chosen as Chief of the Year.