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Grand Forks fire chief retires after nearly 45 years fighting blazes

Grand Forks Fire Chief Peter O'Neill will retire after Jan. 5, stepping down to spend time with his family after a nearly 45-year career with the Fire Department.

"I'm healthy and I'm enjoying my job. But I think that a different fire chief could take our fire department one more step into the future," he said. "I have a few things I want to do with my family and my friends. Sometimes work gets in the way of that. It sounds silly, but I want to enjoy the rest of my life."

O'Neill, who was born and raised in Grand Forks, joined the department in 1973 as a "pipeman," rising to fire chief in 1999. He said he's most proud of the department's new 27-acre training facility, complete with classrooms and a range of items to help simulate car extrication and fighting blazes in high-rise structures. He submitted his letter of resignation in early November, he said, and his last day at the office will be Jan. 5.

"(The city has) been very good to me in my career," O'Neill said. "It's given me an awful lot of opportunities. and I hope I'm leaving the department in the shape that everybody expected."

City Administrator Todd Feland said he expects an interim chief to be appointed in coming days to lead the department after O'Neill steps down, with a new chief chosen by the end of March. That new chief should be on the job as soon as early April, Feland said.

"He's really Mr. Grand Forks," Feland said. "Having lived here his entire life, his family being so prominent—with his father being a former mayor in grand forks—just all his decades of dedication to the fire department and the city of Grand Forks, he's added extraordinary benefit."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

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