Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O’Nale poses with current and former colleagues at his retirement party on Friday, June 29, 2018.
Dozens of friends, family members and colleagues packed the Oldsmar Fire Rescue headquarters last week to say farewell to retiring Chief Dean O’Nale.
O’Nale, who’s been with the department since 1993 and was named chief in 2011, is moving with his wife, Michelle, to Cripple Creek, Co., where he will head up the town’s small fire department while avoiding the many donkeys that freely roam the streets.
During the ceremony on Friday, June 29, several city officials and coworkers spoke about the impact O’Nale has made on the department and the community.
“Where do you start to list the accomplishments of the most decorated, accomplished fire chief in Pinellas County history?” City Manager Al Braithwaite said in his trademark deadpan, eliciting a big smile from his longtime friend.
Oldsmar City Manager Al Braithwaite speaks about his good friend, retiring Oldsmar Fire Rescue Chief Dean O’Nale.
After listing several of O’Nale’s accomplishments and projects as well as his favorite mottos, including, “train, train, train,” “lead with confidence” and “if it was easy, the cops would do it!”, Braithwaite said “we will forever be indebted to him. His successor will have big shoes to fill.”
“I’ve known Dean ever since he entered the system in the mid 80s,” Pinellas County’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Services Jim Fogarty said.
Pinellas County’s Director of Public Safety and Emergency Services, Jim Fogarty (left), greets his old friend, Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O’Nale, during O’Nale’s retirement party on June 29, 2018.
“I’ve watched him go from a paramedic to where he is now, and he’s still the same guy.
Fogarty added, “He was always, and is always, easy to get along with and very responsive to the needs of the community.”
“He always knew how to balance budget constraints with the needs of the community in good times and bad. He’s the type of guy when he’s on the scene, you knew things were going to get done.”
Former Oldsmar Fire Chief Scott McGuff, who served the city for 27 years and was O’Nale’s predecessor until his retirement in 2011, said Dean is a product of an excellent system.
“It’s really one of the gratifying things to see the department have enough good people that can come on the job, work a long career and retire here,” McGuff said.
“I benefitted from it, Dean benefitted from it, and it’s continued to happen because we have a good base here, and that wasn’t always the case. Employees didn’t retire here, they went somewhere else. But things have changed and now this is as desirable a location as any in the county.”
(L-R) Oldsmar City Council member Jerry Beverland, Mayor Doug Bevis, Chief Dean O’Nale, City Manager Al Braithwaite, Council member Dan Saracki and Vice-Mayor Eric Seidel.
Mayor Doug Bevis acknowledged it would be tough to replace O’Nale—so tough, the department is planning to use four in-house candidates on a rotating trial basis before naming a permanent chief.
“There are so many skill sets people don’t know he has—his training and leadership for example,” he said.
“He’s very hands on and active in the community, and that will be greatly missed. You can always install a new fire station, but people like that can’t be replaced.”
Retiring Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O’ Nale speaks to the crowd including his wife, Michelle, to his right, during his retirement party on Friday, June 29, 2018.
Despite the loss, Bevis said the departing chief left his department in good shape.
“I think we have an incredible fire department, all the crews, and Dean’s leadership inside and outside the fire department is going to be greatly missed,” Bevis said.
“But the great thing is he’s brought in a great group of people to take his place, so we won’t miss a beat.”
Following the official retirement announcement a few minutes after 2:00 pm, O’Nale’s colleagues presented him with some very cool gifts, including a commissioned painting, a helmet signed by his colleagues, a diorama featuring his many pins, badges and patches and a decorative axe.
Some of the items presented to Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O’Nale at his retirement ceremony.
After a tear-filled speech, he hugged Michelle along with dozens of well-wishers before heading to a private party at a nearby restaurant.
Before he left the station, the once and future chief spoke about closing this important chapter of his life.
“This has been the best professional thing I’ve done in my life, coming to this city,” O’Nale said.
“I can’t say enough about how this city has treated me. So many great people I’ve worked for. I’m going to take all the good stuff I learned and pass it off as mine!
“But I’m excited about this new opportunity and the next phase of my life.”
Enjoy this photo gallery from Chief Dean O’Nale’s retirement party: