A new chief and a new tone
Fire Chief Tom Hummel is looking to Painesville’s department future
He may still be deciding what to hang on the walls of his new office, but Painesville’s newly appointed Fire Chief Tom Hummel is already looking ahead to the tasks at hand.
Firefighting is nothing new to Hummel.
He volunteered immediately after graduating high school to work for the Chardon Fire Department in 1984, as did his father and grandfather before him. It’s a legacy going on its fourth generation with Hummel’s son Tom, who currently works double-duty both as a full-time firefighter in Berea and part-time in Chardon.
Hummel, who left Chardon’s department in 1995 after being hired by Painesville, recalls the impetus to shift departments.
“Painesville is a lot like Chardon, where I grew up.,” he said. “It’s a small community that’s tightknit. The people that live here are very close, they know each other, they’re friendly with each other.
“Painesville firefighters are always known to get the job done, no matter what; no questions asked,” Hummel added. “People put us to work because they know we’re getting the job done. That’s a great source of pride in the department and should be in the community as well. Everybody around us knows, call us, we’re going to get the job done.”
The long pedigree of firefighting that runs through Hummel’s family has helped shape the way he intends to run the city’s fire department.
“It gives me a caring attitude,” he said. “We’re a very tight-knit community in the fire service. Everyone is your brother or sister. We try to take care of each other and make sure we’re safe. I’ve always wanted to help someone out on their worst day. That’s what we see in the fire service. Whether it’s a fire, or car accident or heart attack, we’re there trying to help them.”
His predecessor, Chief Mark Mlachak was a man steeped in military service whose oversight of the department was considered by Hummel as firm as it was fair. While indebted to the immersive and indepth training Mlachak offered his successor, Hummel indicates distinct differences between the ways they will run the department.
“He was a certain kind of guy,” Hummel said of Mlachak. “He always told people he wasn’t ‘Mr. Warm and Fuzzy’. He had a very authoritative demeanor. There was no beating around the bush with him. I think I bring a different management style to the table.
“I hope to be a little more relaxed and a little more open,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard to develop a lot of friendships in the fire service. Moving up in the command structure I can still be friendly with those people.
“I think they understand that I’m in a different position now and I have a different boss I have to answer to now, but I want to work with everyone.”
Hummel described the department’s problemsolving approach.
“I always tell people, if you have a problem with something, don’t come to me and complain,” he said. “Bring your complaint with a solution. I look for a team concept. I want everybody to have input and ownership of the decision.”
Part of the decision making Hummel will have to tackle in 2019 will involve balancing the department’s needs against a finite budget.
“There’s an ultimate picture and then there’s a realistic picture,” he said. “Realistically, I’d like to immediately add one man per shift or three more firefighters. That would help with some of our overtime costs that we’re dealing with right now, but that’s a large impact on the budget and I don’t know how quickly that will happen. But, that would help us out a lot.”
Working alongside Hummel on the budget will be City Manager Monica Irelan.
“She has an open mind because she knows I’m new to the position,” the chief said. “I’m constantly learning new things about city administration. I was very surprised with the level of candor at the staff meeting and how relaxed everything is.
“I was expecting a much more rigid and authoritative type of meeting,” he added. “It’s completely the opposite. Everyone is very friendly, helpful. I’m looking forward to having a very good working relationship.”
2019 sees the City of Painesville welcoming Tom Hummel as their fire department’s new chief. Hummel took over for Mark Mlachak who retired December 31.