One of the longest-serving fire chiefs in central Ohio is retiring.

One of the longest-serving fire chiefs in central Ohio is retiring.

Whitehall Fire Chief Tim Tilton will step down effective Jan. 2, 2013, after nearly 16 years in the position.

Tilton, 51, was named chief of the Whitehall Division of Fire on Feb. 7, 1997, succeeding Bill Reich as the division's chief.

Tilton joined the Whitehall Division of Fire in 1985 and will have more than 27 years of service to the city of Whitehall upon his retirement.

Tilton is enrolled in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program and could have remained on the job for another five years but decided it was time to retire.

Tilton said he first considered retirement about two years ago, when he enrolled in DROP and had achieved 25 years of service to the division.

"It just seemed like the right time to retire and move on," he said. "I have some things I'd like to accomplish in my personal life, (and) I think it's time for someone else to lead the department."

That someone, on an interim basis, will be Whitehall Assistant Fire Chief Preston Moore, who has been chosen to fill in upon Tilton's retirement.

The results of a civil-service examination will determine a permanent successor to Tilton.

Tilton began his career in 1983 as a part-time firefighter at the Perry Township Fire Department.

Two years later, he took civil-service examinations for open firefighter positions for the Columbus Division of Fire, as well as departments at Worthington, Whitehall and Upper Arlington.

"Whitehall called back first," said Tilton, who also made a pledge to his wife, Brenda, and his family that he would stay at the department that hired him.

"I made a promise to my family to keep the first (full-time) job I got," he said.

Tilton and his wife have three sons and live in Worthington. Two are Worthington graduates, and their youngest son is a student at Thomas Worthington High School.

Tilton is a 1979 graduate of Worthington High School.

He joined the Whitehall Division of Fire on July 16, 1985.

"It has been the ultimate privilege to serve as chief," said Tilton, who was promoted to lieutenant on Feb. 4, 1994, to captain on April 14, 1995, and to chief on Feb. 7, 1997.

Accomplishments during Tilton's tenure as chief, he said, included a policy of rotating the city's emergency equipment, development of a robust training program and, perhaps most significantly, the construction of a new fire department headquarters that opened in 2001.

Tilton said his retirement plans include charity work, such as helping with Habitat for Humanity projects, as well as picking up some part-time work at businesses that family and friends own, including automotive repair and an irrigation company.

Tilton also has future plans for self-employment as a residential safety inspector.

Tilton thanked the city and its residents for their support of the fire department.

"The city of Whitehall gave me the chance to live out my childhood dream of being a firefighter and helping people," he said.