100 Years, 100 Stories
Video: The Kansas City Fire Department provides fire protection, emergency medical service, emergency rescue and hazardous materials response to an estimated population of 466,600 people. And Metropolitan Community College alumnus, Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi is the department’s highest ranking uniformed officer.
“The job of a firefighter is a big responsibility and the job of a fire chief is one in which we have to align the resources that the city provides. We have to be able to use those in the best way to provide the best public safety that we can in the most efficient manner. It’s a big responsibility. 1,300 members, 34 fire stations with ambulance transport responsibility. We’re lucky in Kansas City, that the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, and the elected officials in Kansas City support public safety. “It’s a big job and I am very lucky and proud to be able to serve the city” explained Chief Berardi.
He was appointed as the permanent chief of Kansas City’s Fire Department in January of 2013. Prior to that, Berardi was serving as interim chief after Chief Richard “Smokey” Dyer retired in July of 2012. The city held a national search before choosing Berardi as Dyer’s replacement.
Berardi has been with the Kansas City Fire Department for 26 years and served the last 11 as deputy chief. And prior to this responsibility, he spent 15 years on a fire apparatus. In addition to his work with the Kansas City Fire Department, he has been a member of Missouri’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force since 2000, and he has been deployed to a number of major national disasters.
Paul Berardi graduated from MCC-Penn Valley in 1992 with an associate degree in applied science with a fire science emphasis. He is also a graduate of the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program, and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baker University and a master of public administration degree from UMKC’s Bloch School of Management.
“I grew up in Kansas City. I grew up in Brookside area. I went to Kansas City Missouri Public Schools. In fact, I still live in the same neighborhood that I grew up in. Being a part of Kansas City, being a part of the community, the public safety community that protects the city of Kansas City, it does mean a lot to me and I am proud to be able to serve the fire department,” said Berardi.
When asked why he chose to attend MCC, Chief Berardi said that it was the college of choice for him because it provided an affordable, flexible avenue that allowed him to pursue his long-term educational goals. More specifically, he chose MCC because of the opportunity to earn an associate of applied science degree emphasizing fire science. He said, “As a firefighter in Kansas City, it was a natural fit because I heard good things about the program and they accommodated a firefighter’s schedule.”
“Shortly after I became a firefighter, within a year or two years, I began going to MCC for a fire science degree and graduated with that degree in 1992,” said Berardi.
The Chief says Metropolitan Community College provided the education he needed along the way. Reflecting on his experience at MCC, Chief Berardi recalled two instructors who made a significant impact on him – Bill Benjamin, who was his fireground tactics instructor, and Fire Chief Rich Leahman, who inspired him through his overall knowledge and enthusiasm for the history of fire service.
“The program was absolutely perfect. What was very convenient with MCC is that they were cooperative with all the community colleges in the Kansas City metropolitan area, including, Johnson County, Kansas City Kansas and, they worked with our schedule. They were able to accommodate and the classes were interesting and rigorous at the same time. That was really, kind of the stepping stone to my fire service education, which I continued up to a master’s degree in public administration,” said Berardi.
After his MCC education, Chief Berardi and the City established a Kansas City Fire Department Paramedic Scholarship program to recruit young men and women who are residents of Kansas City.
“KCFD and MCC have been a partner for a long time this is just kind of re-enhances that. We hope that foundation will grow into a sustainable resource for community men and women who come out of high school and want to take a career in the fire service, we want to provide them the opportunity to do that, so we can keep the jobs here in Kansas City and provide a very economical way for us to hire qualified people in to our department. MCC serves a purpose in Kansas City and there’s no question about it. Being around for 100 years, yeah, I don’t think you’re around for 100 years, unless you’re providing some benefit, and there is definitely a benefit MCC has provided to Kansas City.”
The Chief says he is proud of his education. He is also glad to see other MCC Alumni, Police Chief Daryl Forte and Kansas City Mayor Sly James, also serving Kansas City.
“MCC is an education that works,” said Berardi.