READING, Pa. - With the new year will come a new chief in the Reading Fire Department.
But before the announcement, city officials had to tend to one piece of important business Thursday.
Under the guise of a budget meeting, city workers and firefighters surprised outgoing Chief Bill Rehr with a warm sendoff into retirement.
"Fifty-one years in the department, so some of these people and I go way back," said Rehr, who started his career as a volunteer with the Reading Fire Department in 1959.
In 1972, Rehr became a career officer. In 1996, he was appointed to chief.
"I can honestly say he's very dedicated going to fires at all hours of the night," said Rehr's daughter, Christine Perniski. "Ever since I was young, that's all I've known."
Rehr will be officially off the clock Friday night.
Once his retirement officially begins, city officials said First Deputy Chief Kevin Kulp will fill the role of interim chief until they find a permanent replacement.
Kulp has been with the department for 33 years.
?His dedication to his job and to the city is unmistakable,? said McMahon. ?We are pleased to have a long-time employee of the city with qualifications such as his serve in this position.?
Rehr looks back on his career fondly, even though some of his prominent memories include the city's most devastating fires.
"Those are the kind of fires embedded in your memory," Rehr said stoically. "You don't forget those very easily."
Rehr's proudest moment on the job, he said, was when his son, Tom, made lieutenant.
"He was the top scorer on the list, so it wasn't nepotism. He earned it," Rehr said of his son's promotion. "That was a proud moment when you have someone in the family following in the profession."
With firefighting behind him, Rehr said he plans to fan the flames of his passion for history by volunteering with the city's fire museum and the Berks County Historical Society.
He said simply, he'll be around.
"I'm sure when I see the column of smoke in the sky and hear the sirens, I'll be like the old fire horse that got retired to pull the ice cream wagon and take off anyway," said Rehr.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Pennsylvania Carolyn Kaster/AP