Garden City Fire Chief Allen Shelton recently was named 2018 Fire Chief of the Year during the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs' conference in Garden City.

“I am proud to see Chief Shelton being honored with this very prestigious award,” Mayor Roy Cessna said at the Nov. 6 Garden City Commission meeting. “He has provided outstanding leadership over the many years of service that he has given to the City of Garden City and Finney County.”

Shelton has spent his entire 44-year career with the Garden City Fire Department, beginning in 1975 as a volunteer firefighter, elected volunteer assistant chief in 1978 and volunteer fire chief in 1982. Shelton became the department's first full-time, paid fire chief on Feb. 27, 1984.

Staying in one department for so long is rare and, to Derby Fire Chief and the association's former president Brad Smith, "astounding."

Smith has known Shelton since they served on the association's executive board together in 2001, and has come to know him as a person of character, one who has committed his time on a local and state level to improving the fire service. If Shelton had wanted a reputation, he could have stayed at the GCFD initially and then moved up the ranks in different cities or states, Smith said. But Shelton wanted to serve his home.

"Sometimes we have fire chiefs that run on egos, and Chief Shelton doesn't have an ego. It's all about 'What's good for my department and what's good for my city?' It's not about who I am, my reputation or who I could be," Smith said. 

According to a press release from the city, during Shelton's time as chief, the department has grown from one full-time fire chief to a total of 38 employees, including three battalion chiefs, a fire marshal, six lieutenants, 26 firefighters and an administrative assistant. The department has two stations and plans to open a third in 2024.

“Allen is most deserving of this recognition,” City Manager Matt Allen said in the release. “Not only is he deeply committed to the department and the community, but Chief also is committed to the state and national fire chief associations. He shares his knowledge in a way that helps develop his staff and other fire service leaders around the country.”

Shelton has been a member of numerous committees and associations throughout his career, including the Kansas Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators and the Kansas State Fire Chiefs Association. He has served as a board member and as vice president of the Kansas State Fire Chiefs Association.

In his nomination letter, Battalion Chief Ken Seirer said Shelton always has prioritized firefighter education and training, teaming up with Garden City Community College in 2007 to build a training tower used by fire departments throughout the region.

“Another top priority for Chief Shelton has always been to provide each firefighter with the best and safest equipment so that they can provide the best service possible to the community,” Seirer said in the letter.