Boulder Fire Chief Larry Donner will retire next month after 23 years leading the department.

Donner, who announced his retirement Wednesday, will step down Oct. 17, exactly 43 years after his first day as a firefighter on Oct. 17, 1971.

"It just seemed like a nice, kind of poetic way to retire," he said.

Donner, 65, came to Boulder in 1991 after serving as chief of the Iowa City Fire Department for several years.

He started his career in firefighting with the Fort Collins Fire Department, which later became the Poudre Fire Authority, where he served as a battalion chief and fire marshal.

Soon after he started as chief in Boulder, Donner increased the number of firefighters staffed on each fire engine from two to three, which helped cut down on the time it takes the department to respond to fires.

He's also responsible for helping bolster the city's wildland fire division, which has grown from one person to a team of nine since its founding in 1990.

Donner said he's also proud to have helped rid the city of wooden shingles, which contributed to the spread of fires.

"Since our events are wind-driven, the wind would pick shingles up and deposit them onto the next wood-shingled roof," he said. "We've reduced that potential hugely. It really does reduce the risk for the entire community."


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During the September 2013 flood, Donner worked with other city and county leaders to make high-level policy decisions in partnership with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

Mike Chard, director of that office, said Donner's extensive experience gave him insight into what types of problems might arise during the eight days of rain, and how area leadership could best respond.

"He provided strong leadership and experience," Chard said. "He's handled a lot of emergencies. He's a person that's making good policy decisions from a very balanced perspective, not being overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation."

Chard worked under Donner in the fire department as a training chief from 1994 to 2004, and then again starting in 2009 when Chard became emergency management director. Donner sits on the emergency management board of directors.

"He's a visionary guy," Chard said. "He always sees things with the big picture, always puts the community first. Public safety, No. 1, over anything and everything. Personally, he's a man of great character and he has a great sense of humor."

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle applauded Donner for fostering cooperation among area fire and law enforcement agencies.

Pelle worked with Donner during several wildfires and during the September 2013 flood, and he said the longtime fire chief has always acted as a level-headed leader.

"He's very calm in the storm," Pelle said. "He's very good at inclusion, making sure the city manager and other departments in the county and everybody are working well together toward the same goals.

"He's just a very collegial gentleman, and I'll miss that."

Donner, who oversees a team of roughly 110 firefighters and support employees, also led the effort to build a new fire training center in Boulder.

The new $5.8 million center opened in the summer of 2010 near the Boulder Reservoir and is available to Boulder County regional fire agencies for simulations and classes.

"It's a team effort," Donner said. "We work with law enforcement agencies and other fire agencies outside the city. The part I'm proudest of is my ability to facilitate that interaction and make sure we provide seamless services out there to the community."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kutas@dailycamera.com.