La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland to retire in June

La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland updates reporters after an explosion in 2014 on the city's North Side. Cleveland will retire from his position with the city this summer.

Tribune file photo

La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland has announced plans to retire after more than a decade with the city of La Crosse.

Cleveland, who has logged more than three decades as a firefighter and chief, will step down in June, according to a statement released Tuesday by Mayor Tim Kabat.

Kabat praised Cleveland for his work in getting national accreditation for the fire department, overseeing the merger of building inspections and code enforcement into the department, and helping the department become one of the first in the state to carry an opioid overdose antidote.

He also noted Cleveland’s leadership during difficult times, including a tornado that swept through the city’s South Side in 2011.

With the rapid growth of trains carrying North Dakota crude oil through the region, Cleveland was an outspoken advocate for disaster response preparation.

During his tenure, Cleveland also oversaw a contentious plan for the city to provide ambulance service, which was scrapped in 2009, and clashed with former Mayor Matt Harter over staffing levels and overtime restrictions.

Cleveland said Wednesday he hopes in his final six months to put together a plan for maintenance of the city’s four fire stations and at least identify a site for a fifth on the far south side.

“I think the community needs it,” he said. “We have done nothing in the last 50 years with our stations. It’s almost embarrassing.”

He said he’s proud of the behind-the-scenes work that made for smooth responses to events such as the tornado and the 2014 explosion of a North Side asphalt storage tank.

“It’s not a flashy organization,” Cleveland said. “It’s walk matches its talk.”

Cleveland, 57, took over the La Crosse Fire Department in 2006 after 15 years as chief in Marshfield, Wis. He previously served as a firefighter and chief in Menasha, Wis. He holds a masters degree in public administration and has served as the president of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association and secretary for the National Fire Protection Association/Fire Service Executive Board.

Cleveland said he’s looking forward to traveling, reading and learning to play the guitar, while taking a break from his highly structured work schedule.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to doing,” he said. “Whatever we want to do whenever we do it.”

It will be up to the city’s Police and Fire Commission to select a new chief. Kabat said he expects a nationwide search to begin as soon as possible in order to hire a replacement before Cleveland’s departure.

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Reporter

Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things. Call him at 608-791-8217.

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