After more than four decades of public service as a firefighter, 63-year-old Kevin Reardon has climbed another ladder: leading the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of State Fire Marshal.

The Hilliard resident is Ohio's 39th state fire marshal, dating back to 1900.

In this role, he will help firefighters, fire inspectors and administrators throughout the state do the best possible job of protecting residents' lives and property.

Reardon said he is "humbled and proud" to have been selected as state fire marshal.

Sheryl Maxfield, director of the Ohio Department of Commerce and a member of Gov. Mike DeWine's cabinet, chose Reardon from candidates who applied for the position after Jeff Hussey resigned in March to accept a job as deputy chief of operations for Volusia County Fire Rescue in Florida.

Reardon brings "a high caliber of experience" to the role of state fire marshal "and the state will benefit from it," Maxfield said.

Reardon was sworn in by DeWine on June 18. His first official day was June 22.

Reardon said "the broad mission" of the fire marshal "spiked my interest" when the position opened.

The Division of State Fire Marshal oversees multiple operations for fire departments and divisions throughout Ohio and includes a code-enforcement bureau; a fire-prevention bureau, a fire- and explosion-investigation bureau; a forensics lab; a testing-and-regulation bureau; and the Ohio Fire Academy.

Reardon reports to work each day at a 90-acre campus on East Main Street in Reynoldsburg, just inside the Licking County line. It includes the academy, at which recruits train to become certified as firefighters for departments and divisions throughout Ohio.

Reardon has been preparing for this role since his first day as a part-time Westerville firefighter in 1978. Even then, he was looking beyond the firefighters' standard implements of hoses, axes and boots.

In 1981, when Reardon became a full-time firefighter and medic for the Columbus Division of Fire, he began studying and learning about many other aspects of firefighting.

"In the 1980s, I saw that a lot of firefighters were going out on disabilities, and I thought if that ever happened to me, I wanted to be able to have something else to do (related to firefighting)," he said. "So that put me in an education mindset."

Reardon earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from Capital University and a master's degree in public policy and management from Ohio State University.

He also has a master's degree in national-security studies from the American Military University, an online institution.

Reardon rose to the rank of battalion chief before he retired from the Columbus Division of Fire in 2013.

But he also gained other important training for the fire-marshal post, starting about two decades earlier.

From 1995 to 2005, Reardon was the military and veterans-affairs liaison for DeWine, then a state senator.

He also was manager of homeland security for Battelle Memorial Institute from 2005 to 2009.

In this role, Reardon said, he worked in Battelle's national-security division, providing services to clients, including the federal government.

Reardon said he could not say much about his work for Battelle, but the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that used four hijacked passenger airliners and killed almost 3,000 people changed every aspect of firefighting in both obvious and nuanced ways.

"It changed the way we had to think, the way we saw ourselves," Reardon said.

He described the time early in his firefighting career when people delivered cookies and cakes to the fire station and doors were left unlocked almost any hour of the day or night.

"We only ever thought of ourselves as 'the good guys,' but after 9/11, we had to start seeing ourselves as a target," Reardon said.

After retiring in 2013, Reardon became director of the Central Ohio Technical College Institute for Public Services and Safety, overseeing the academic curriculum of the college.

He left that position to accept the appointment as fire marshal, though he continues to serve as a member of the alumni council's board of directors of Ohio State's John Glenn College of Public Affairs, mentoring graduate students.

"Serving Ohioans as the state fire marshal really is a great honor and privilege," Reardon said. "It's an outstanding way to service the citizens of Ohio and the fire service by being an advocate to promote and enhance the ability of Ohioans to protect themselves from the hazards of fire – creating safer communities."

Reardon and his wife, Jill, have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo