The Orlando Fire Department's 11th chief, Francis E. "Gene" Reynolds, died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 80. Reynolds joined the department as a firefighter in 1954 after stints selling shoes and insurance. When his father-in-law retired as an engineer for OFD, Reynolds was promoted into that position. He later moved up the ranks to lieutenant, captain and assistant chief, and in 1977 was appointed fire chief by Mayor Carl Langford.
During his 12 years in that role, Reynolds championed several causes for the department. He led it into the Emergency Medical Services field, requiring that firefighters receive state certification as emergency medical technicians. He established the Educational Incentive Program and hired the first female firefighters in the department's history.
Despite his demanding career, Reynolds always made time to be there for his family. He coached his sons' Little League teams and attended his grandchildren's functions. "We were his hobby," said his son Jim Reynolds, Orlando's current fire chief. "He was the type that was always happy to see you walk in the door."
On the job, the elder Reynolds was instrumental in creating a joint response agreement with Orange County fire departments. He established the Affirmative Action and Data Processing sections. During his term, firefighters were equipped with computer terminals and computer-aided dispatch systems. The National Fire Incident Reporting System was implemented and the State Fire Prevention Code was adopted. He introduced specialty vehicles, such as the Hazmat Van for hazardous materials, Dive Rescue Van, Woods trucks for brushfire fighting and five new Rescue Trucks with two additional reserve rescue units. Floodlights were installed on all engines, and he purchased the department's first mini Tower. The Physical Assessment Program for all civil-service employees also was established.
His professional memberships included the Southeastern Fire Chiefs Association, which he served as president in 1988 and 1989, and the Central Florida Fire Chiefs Association. In 1985, he was voted Florida Fire Chief of the Year by the Florida Fire Chiefs Association.
Born at his parents' home on South Mills Avenue, Reynolds graduated from Orlando High School in 1947. He married his high-school sweetheart, Dorothy Kline, two years later, and they had five children. "Theirs was probably the best love story ever told," said son Jim. "Family was their life." Three months ago, the family celebrated Gene and Dorothy's 60th wedding anniversary and their 80th birthdays. Family and old friends showed up to honor their lives and marriage. "Pa enjoyed people," said his son. "He enjoyed life." Jim Reynolds described his father as a great mentor who never pushed him or his siblings to do anything. "He just supported us," he said. "Perhaps his biggest legacy is that he taught us to put God first in our lives, like he did," Jim said. "Then he taught us to be true to ourselves and each other, and finally to be fair. That's the life he lived." In addition to his wife and son Jim, Reynolds is survived by sons Don Reynolds and Bob Reynolds both of Orlando, and John Reynolds of St. Cloud; daughter Susan McLeod of Bushnell; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.