Altoona Fire Chief Reynold D. Santone Jr. epitomizes the best of a public servant.
Santone, who has been chief since 1984, recently announced his retirement after 47 years with the Altoona department.
During his time with the city, Santone oversaw changes in the way the fire department worked on a daily basis. He became the department's first training officer around 1972, bringing a systematic approach to the art and science of firefighting.
The approach helped make it much safer for both firefighters and the public they serve. The department today is constantly in a training mode, honing its skills for when they are needed.
The knowledge hasn't been kept inside the walls of the Altoona department. Santone and other city firefighters have spent numerous hours training volunteer firefighters around the region to help them as well.
Because of the knowledge, equipment, training and a very good water system, the city's ISO rating has dropped from Class 4 to Class 2, which means lower insurance premiums for residents and businesses.
Santone was behind the creation of the City of Altoona Hazardous Materials Response Team, which plays a vital role in dealing with chemical releases in transportation crashes and industrial plant incidents.
In 2006, Santone was named Person of the Year by the Blair Bedford Central Labor Council for his work with his employees, co-workers and the community.
At the time, labor council President Bob Kutz said Santone is "not a paper chief" who distances himself from his firefighters. Santone, even as chief, has not been afraid to pick up a hose and help his firefighters keep a fire from spreading.
Santone also stood for hours in the cold playing Christmas carols on his trumpet and getting beet-red lips as he and his firefighters helped raise money for The Salvation Army.
Altoona and Blair County is a much safer place to live, work and play - thanks to Renny Santone.
We offer our best wishes to him on a well-deserved retirement.