After 31 years, Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan will retire his helmet to spend more time with his family and ailing father.
City officials announced Thursday that Executive Assistant Chief Kara Kalkbrenner will be acting fire chief until the position is filled permanently.
Kalkbrenner has been with the Phoenix Fire Department since 1985.
Khan’s 82-year-old father, Bob Khan Sr., has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Over the holidays I could see it. He wasn’t the same. I have a little bit of guilt because I haven’t given him the attention I should. My sister’s done that, and it was really just weighing on me,” he said.
Khan, 54, told me he’d rather spend time with his dad now than when he can no longer remember.
“This has been great, it’s been three decades, it’s been a dream job,” he said.
Khan’s mother immigrated to Arizona from Mexico. He was raised on a Phoenix farm and attended Arizona State University. He first studied accounting and then communications, but sitting still wasn’t for him.
In 1982, Khan graduated from the fire academy and began his career with the Phoenix Fire Department. For 14 years he worked a fire truck with both Engine 21 near 27th Avenue and Buckeye Road and then with Engine 2 near Van Buren Street and 4th Avenue.
“I was the camp cook on Engine 2. I loved dinner time and working out with the troops,” he said.
Khan was named assistant chief in 2001 and led Phoenix fire crews into Ground Zero to aid New York after the 9/11 tragedy.
By 2006, he had ascended to the top spot of chief.
“I’ve had the great honor of being the chief through the ‘Great Recession,’” Khan said light heartedly.
Just two years into his tenure, he was faced with deep budget cuts and a growing demand for emergency services.
“The hardest thing we had to do was get our arms around the recession. We had to rethink our strategy. It popped up and hit us like a ton of bricks, literally,” Khan said.
After 9/11, Khan had learned how the system worked. He explained how he began to work closely with folks in Washington D.C. and the Department of Homeland Security to lobby for grant money.
During a time when jobs were being lost, Khan was able to fill positions, maintain staffing levels and even adding safety training programs, which included building a 60-acre training facility.
“Making people do more with less has been a challenge,” he said.
While the Phoenix fire chief’s last day will be Feb. 28, he still plans to fulfill obligations overseas to meet with organizations promoting fire safety.
In his retirement, Khan says he just wants to spend time driving out to the family farm with his dad and going to Pete’s Fish & Chips for lunch.
He’ll savor the time with his two girls who will soon be grown and possibly dabble in construction.
As for his fire family, he still plans to spend time hanging out with his fire brothers.
“This isn’t a funeral, it’s just a different way of being around,” Khan said.