You’ll forgive Rick Poeschl if he has a bit of a relieved look about him these days.
Retirement will do that to you.
The 30-plus-year veteran of the Lee’s Summit Fire Department announced recently his final day as fire chief will be March 16.
During his time at the helm, a position he earned in 2015 after the retirement of Keith Martin, Poeschl has about seen it all — from massive fires consuming buildings and residences to governmental fires he had to navigate inside the walls of his department and city hall.
Poeschl seemingly piloted these sometimes-rocky waters with the ease of someone with decades of experience on the force. And while he will be the first to acknowledge that none of it was easy, per se, having Poeschl at the top meant we had someone with an even hand, a disposition for the title and a man that could balance the interpersonal and political aspects of the job.
Some of that experience Poeschl received decades ago. Because, in the 1980s, before he was a firefighter working his way up the proverbial ladder, Poeschl worked the police beats in Independence and Kansas City.
A scholarship football player at the University of Nebraska-Omaha studying fire protection technology, Poeschl most certainly had the physical presence for the job. And when he decided police work (and a subsequent office job) wasn’t for him, he found his way to Lee’s Summit.
“I knew nothing about Lee’s Summit and knew nothing about the Lee’s Summit Fire Department and I thank God every day I got hired on,” Poeschl said from his downtown Lee’s Summit, headquarters office. “I have a deep love for this city and this department.”
He was hired under Smokey Dyer and worked his way up to engineer, fire specialist and promoted to captain in 1998. He recalls his next move, which was, in part, made necessary by the increasing population in Lee’s Summit and expansion of fire services.
“Chief Solberg was the one that initiated the idea of a battalion chief on each shift,” Poeschl recalled, noting he was promoted to that position, then to assistant chief on C shift. In 2004, with a retirement of a colleague, he applied for assistant chief of support services. With Martin’s retirement, Poeschl was named interim chief in 2014 and promoted in March of 2015 to chief.
When Poeschl started with the LSFD, there were five stations and only two ambulances. He remembers the days when the “drain man” was a term widely known at the stations.
“As the ‘drain man’ you had to wait and hear if you were going to jump on the pumper or the ambulance,” Poeschl said. “Your gear was placed on the drain because you didn’t know which way you were going to go.”
Outside of his work on active scenes, Poeschl was a key component in ongoing contract negotiations. He said his role has been educational on both sides, at city hall and with the union men and women that represent captains and below.
Under his leadership, the Fire Department has not only seen the construction of Station No. 7 and the revamped Station No. 2 (he served as project manager during construction of both), but also working through the tireless process of earning Accredited Agency status with the Commission on Fire Accreditation in 2016 — a process that put many aspects of the department to the test.
“That was huge. It opened our eyes to how important accreditation is and how we can improve ourselves,” Poeschl said.
Poeschl can reflect on the new construction, the detailed work on response times and the dedicated people he has shared a fire engine and office with for more than three decades.
And part of that reflection is heavy, remembering where he was when he heard the news that his friend Bryan Pottberg had died during an underwater training scenario in 1999.
“To say that was a hard day on all of us and our department, that really doesn’t do it justice,” Poeschl said. “It’s difficult to even put into words.”
Through those times, though, and times of triumph, rescue and even the day-to-day workings in the station, Poeschl feels a sense of great fortune that he was able to land in Lee’s Summit and serve 30 years on the job.”
“Before being hired by LSFD, I hardly knew anything about Lee’s Summit,” he said. “I thank God that I landed a career with this great department in this awesome city. To raise a family in this city while working in the fire service has been amazing. I feel very fortunate for the relationships I have built with my co-workers and friends here.”
Poeschl and his wife, Jackie, will soon get to settle in to a different pace, one that includes more time with his granddaughter, Josie, who also lives in Lee’s Summit.
Surrounded by accolades, fire station photos and years of memories, Poeschl now takes his place in the history books of the LSFD.
“I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.