Stillwater Fire Chief Bradley retires after 36 years of service

Story provided by City of Stillwater

Fire Chief Tom Bradley is ending his firefighting career after 36 years of service. His last day on the job will be September 30. Bradley joined the department as firefighter in 1984 and rose through the ranks until he was promoted to chief in 2011.

“I have worked with the finest individuals in the world, in the greatest of all communities, providing the highest quality of fire and emergency services,” Bradley said. “What a great place to spend your career.”

During Bradley’s tenure, he has held positions of lieutenant, deputy fire marshal, captain and assistant chief of administration. He has also served as Senior Enlisted Adviser, Task Force C, 2nd Simulations Group 75th Division U.S. Army, American Legion, Oklahoma State Firefighter Association, and President for the Southwest Division of the International Association Fire Chiefs.

Bradley said that the best advice he ever received was from retired Fire Chief James B. Smith. “He said to a group of us: ‘Someday you all will be the leaders of the department; you need to set your goals and plans now and prepare yourself for those future positions.’”

This advice seems somewhat prophetic in retrospect as Bradley looked back on major emergency incidents from different points in his career. Each of these events (Stillwater’s 1990 tornado, Murrah Building bombing and the OSU Homecoming Tragedy) provided Bradley a certain level of validation that the training, teamwork and leadership made a difference in his career.

Of the 1990 tornado, Bradley said he was awed by damage and, from his insider’s perspective, awed by watching his supervisions turn chaos back into a functioning community. “I learned from them that there are many things to consider during an emergency besides cleaning up after the storm.” As part of the storm’s aftermath, he was clearing buildings on north Perkins Road. “It’s an odd thing to remember, but the tornado knocked down the electric poles and I was struck by how large the cables were.”

He was part of the Stillwater team that responded to the Murrah Building bombing. “Stillwater had sent eight guys. I went on an ambulance to help backfill the City of Edmond’s fire department, but we were relocated to OKC to one of the collection points. You know, I didn’t go to visit the museum until about three years ago. It was interesting to look at it as a part of history.”

Before the OSU Homecoming Tragedy, Bradley said he was always worried about the worst-case scenario regarding the well-attended event. Maybe a child getting caught under a wheel while trying to catch candy from the floats. “During the crash I talked to our incident command Captain Greg Connelly. He gave me a rundown of operations, and I knew they had all concerns covered. That was a powerful moment for me: I walked onto an emergency situation and talked to one highly trained professional, and it validated all the planning and training our personnel complete on a regular basis; that these individuals on scene knew exactly what to do. I was able to go back to my office and begin coordinating the necessary administrative work.”

When asked about what impact he had on the fire department, Bradley quickly pointed to changes in the hiring process that resulted in greater diversity for the department. “We are a more inclusive department now. We look more like the community we serve,” he said. “New people bring new ideas, and I get to learn from them too.”

However, according to City Manager Norman McNickle, one of Bradley’s greatest achievements was the long-term involvement in improving Stillwater’s ISO rating beginning in 2007. “Tom was obviously the right person for the job. His diligent work for the past twenty years resulted in moving the ISO rating from a 4 to a strong 2. I’m sure we’ll be a 1 in the near future.”

The ISO scores fire departments on how they are doing against its organization’s standards to determine property insurance costs. The lower the number the better insurance rates residents get for their property.

Bradley said improving the ISO rating was a team effort that also include steps taken by Water Utilities, Dispatch and the firefighting partnerships with Ingalls, Orlando and Perkins. “We each have a role to play in keeping our community safe,” he said. “I’m really proud of everyone’s ability to work towards a common good.”

Looking forward, Bradley said the one of the upcoming challenges for the fire department is what should happen to Fire Station 2 on the OSU campus. “Community leaders will need to look at changing demographics an how that may or may not change the current footprint,” he said. “It really is important to make a decision that will provide the best customer service for our community.” 

McNickle said, “Tom has never been one to shine the light on himself. I want to take a moment and thank him for his years of service. We’ve worked together for a long time, and I will miss having him on the team.”

Bradley is a lifelong resident of Stillwater. He served in the US Army, Oklahoma National Guard, and Army Reserve for 24 Years, retiring at the rank of master sergeant. He is an active member with Oklahoma Fire Chiefs Association and has served as president for the Southwest Division of the International Fire Chiefs Association representing Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. He is also past executive board member of the Hanner Sharp Post 129 of the American Legion and as a member to the education advisory committee for OSU OKC fire programs.

What’s next? Bradley plans to travel and visit all of the presidential museums. He is married to his wife, Karla, of 25 years and has one daughter attending Oklahoma State University.