A new chief and a new tone

Fire Chief Tom Hum­mel is look­ing to Painesville’s depart­ment fu­ture

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Local News - By Adam Dodd [email protected]­ald.com @the­re­al­adamdodd on twit­ter

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.

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