Solon’s Fire Chief William J. Shaw, instrumental in building the department, plans to retire in late March. He leaves a legacy of being a caring and consummate team player, Mayor Edward H. Kraus said.
“He always made sure our men and women were fully trained and given all they need to do their jobs,” Mayor Kraus said. “He was a fierce advocate for equipment, but also for the personal issues of the firefighters.
“He cared deeply about every person on his department first and foremost their safety and their families, but also made sure they were all taken care of,” Mayor Kraus said. “Bill also cared about the community and the city and was a consummate team player, working closely with police to build one team of safety forces.”
Chief Shaw not only kept the big picture in mind, Mayor Kraus continued, but also was keenly aware of the small details.
A resident of Mentor who has served as Solon’s chief for the past 20 years, Chief Shaw, 59, said he is retiring to spend more time with family, especially his two grandchildren. Chief Shaw has four grown daughters. He and his wife Denise have been married 35 years.
Chief Shaw came to the Solon department from the Willoughby Hills Fire Department, where he served as chief for about two years. In Willoughby, Mr. Shaw rose through the ranks, beginning as a part-time firefighter.
He said what drew him to the field was his desire to help people.
“I always got a good feeling helping others, whether it was shoveling sidewalks or snow when I was young,” he said. “I just carried it forward into adulthood.”
Chief Shaw said of his time in Solon that he worked to build the department to meet the needs of the residents. When he started in the city, there were two fire stations and 45 members on the department. Today, there are three fire stations and a roster of 61 employees. Calls for service have also increased significantly over the years, Chief Shaw noted, with the department responding to 3,300 calls last year.
Chief Shaw said he tried to always be a collaborative leader, embracing a philosophy of working together to solve problems.
“People say ‘you have been a good chief,’ but I’m only one person out of 61” in the department, Chief Shaw said. “What makes the department great are the firefighters, officers and paramedics. They have made me look good.”
Chief Shaw said he has seen firefighting change significantly in the past two decades.
“If someone would have told me 35 years ago that we would have to wear bullet proof vests as a firefighter, I would have thought they were nuts,” he said. But today, that is the case.
“The level of preparedness and level of violence we are at risk for is one of the biggest changes that I have seen, and it’s really sad,” Chief Shaw said. “We are coming to an emergency to help people and so to attack those people (the firefighters) I just don’t understand it. I have a real hard time wrapping my head around it.”
In instances of terrorism, firefighters are on the front lines, he noted. “We have never faced that before.”
Chief Shaw said he will miss most the firefighters he has worked with. “They are such a great bunch of people,” he said. “They are compassionate and want to be good at what they do.” Their sense of humor is “off the charts,” he added with a laugh.
Chief Shaw’s last day is March 27. Mayor Kraus said he has not yet made a decision on his replacement and may possibly approach it the same way he did when former Police Chief Christopher P. Viland retired. That includes posting the position but also obtaining internal candidates.
“We have some time,” Mayor Kraus said. “He (Chief Shaw) is so conscientious that I don’t have to worry he ‘checked out.’
“He will work to the end,” Mayor Kraus added. “That’s how serious he takes this position.”
Chief Shaw said he is proud of his time in Solon.
“Many say ‘it’s a premiere community and great’ and it really is,” he said. “I feel so blessed and so fortunate to have worked in Solon and been an employee here.” He said fellow department heads are “ultimate professionals” and he has learned a lot from them.
“Solon is such a great community and residents are wonderfully supportive of the fire department, and I’ve always appreciated that,” Chief Shaw said. “It’s very humbling when people come up and say ‘thank you for what you do.’
“For us, it’s doing our job but for them it’s very special,” Chief Shaw said. “They never shied away from letting us know that – that meant a lot.”