First in command

Longtime firefighter to lead department

Oct. 11, 2007

It is official. Franklin Lockwood is the new St. Francis fire chief.

Replacing Andrew Neargarder, who retired last June, the 49-year-old St. Francis native was sworn in as chief Oct. 5.

Lockwood was most recently serving as interim fire chief. He has worked for the St. Francis Fire Department for the last 29 years.

Lockwood applied for chief positions in surrounding areas, but said he is happy to stay with the SFFD.

"I've been very fortunate to have a lot of support from the community," he said. "I really couldn't ask for any more support than what they're giving me. I feel comfortable dealing with the people here in the city, I feel comfortable with the people outside the city, and I look forward to meeting the people that I haven't."

Easing into new role

Compared to his duties as interim fire chief, Lockwood said his job will not change much, but he added that landing the position makes him feel more confident.

Instead of responding to every scene, Lockwood spends more time in the office, updating policies and procedures to ensure his team is providing the best service possible.

"But I still jump when my pager goes off," he added.

One duty he said he will miss is being able to work closely with people in the community.

"I enjoy working with people," he said. "I can still do that, but not to the extent that I was doing before."

When he was young, Lockwood said his dream was to own a hardware store. One day, while working at what is now Greg's True Value Hardware, 3050 E. Layton Ave., Lt. David Goltz, who now is retired, came into the store and offered Lockwood a paid, on-call position at the Fire Department. Lockwood accepted.

"He piqued my curiosity, and the rest is history," Lockwood said.

He received training from several SFFD staff and earned his associate's degree in fire science and emergency medical transportation certification.

Change has come over years

From improvements in equipment to new qualifications to become a firefighter, Lockwood has watched the department change drastically since he started as a firefighter in 1978.

"When I started in '78 as a paid on-call, we still rode on the back of the trucks, which hasn't been done for many, many years now, and that's advancement in safety," he said. "Everybody has to be seated and belted."

Every piece of equipment has been replaced, he said.

"When I first started, all the fire hoses were cotton-jacketed, so after you used it, it had to be scrubbed and hung in the hose tower, and it had to dry for two weeks before it could be re-rolled and then put back on the trucks," Lockwood said. "And now everything is synthetic, so we just kind of wash it off and repack it."

The physical size and capability of the equipment have increased. Trucks now carry more water and the protective gear firefighters wear is more efficient for high temperatures.

Improved breathing apparatuses allow firefighters to work longer in buildings on fire.

"They used to be steel tanks, now they are wrapped fiberglass tanks," he said.

Boots also have changed, from rubber to leather.

Unfortunately, Lockwood said, the Fire Department responds to about three times as many calls as it did in 1978. Lockwood said the prevalence of fires has increased because more products are made of plastic and tend to burn more quickly.

Throughout his career, the most memorable event he responded to was the tornado of 2000.

"It was a beautiful March day, all day - long, warm, compared to what it should have been - and at about 6 o'clock that evening, everything went from a beautiful day to high winds and actually chaos in the city," he said.

Glass windows were blown out of stores along Whitnall Avenue, cars were overturned, several people were hurt, and there were gas leaks and trees down throughout the city. Lockwood said it was like a windstorm, but tenfold.

"We were fortunate (the tornado) didn't stay on the ground," he said.

Mapping future of department

Lockwood said his top priority is to maintain the highest level of service possible and to make it better.

"We have a great, young group of firefighters and officers right now," he said. "I think they're all excited about the growth of the city, and they're looking forward to facing those challenges, so I'm very blessed to have the people I have working."

City Attorney Ralph Voltner said Lockwood's salary has been negotiated, but the amount cannot be disclosed until approved by the Common Council.

"It's a work in progress," Voltner said. "I was given some ranges, but I don't know the actual salary."

According to Voltner, Neargarder's annual salary was $74,642. He was paid an additional $2,667 per year for serving as director of emergency government.

Voltner said Lockwood is very qualified for the position.

"I look forward to working with him," he said.

Since being hired as a paid on-call firefighter, Lockwood has been a public education officer, an assistant training officer, a training officer and a fire investigator.

He has served several terms as president of the Milwaukee County Training Officers Association and has volunteered as a fire investigator for the Racine County Fire Investigation Task Force. He has been a member of the International Association of Arson Investigators Inc., Wisconsin Arson Insurance Council and the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety.

Lockwood currently is pursuing a bachelor's degree in public administration for fire service with a minor in emergency disaster management.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at or (262) 446-6602.

By the Numbers

about 400

calls the SFFD responded to in 1978


calls the SFFD responded to in 2006


SFFD personnel


ladder owned by the SFFD


ambulances owned by the SFFD


engines owned by the SFFD


support truck owned by the SFFD


command truck owned by the SFFD

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