In the community, Local government

After distinguished career, Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton is ready to hit the ranks of the retired

ONTARIO – It was the song that did it.
One day this summer, Terry Leighton, Ontario Fire and Rescue chief, was getting ready for work when the song “Til You Can’t” by Cody Johnson came on the radio.
Leighton, 61, listened as he dressed.
He remembered a 55-year-old close friend from his days at the Nampa Fire Department who died suddenly earlier this summer.
Unexpectantly, the lyrics hit Leighton.
“You can tell your old man
“You’ll do some largemouth fishing another time
“You just got too much on your plate to bait and cast a line
“You can always put a rain check in his hand
“Till you can’t.”
Leighton summed it up: “The song was about fishing with your dad and fixing an old car. I decided it was time to go do that. I have a son and a new grandson I want to spend time with.”
Leighton recently told the city he will be retiring in October, closing the door on a 41-career that stretched from Nampa to Ontario. He said he leaves with no regrets.
“I am sad. But I feel good. I have been able to have a lot of good accomplishments,” said Leighton.
Clearly one of the biggest triumphs for the Ontario firefighter was the creation of a regional training facility at the former city public works compound at 55 N.E. 2nd Ave.
The Ontario City Council approved the facility in January. The city, the Ontario Rural Fire District, the Ontario Firefighters Association and a private donor all contributed cash to get the facility up and running.
Leighton spearheaded the concept.
“I am very blessed to be able to be part of it. Something I am very proud of,” said Leighton.
Leighton has seen just about everything in his firefighting career.
“I’ve had some amazing experiences. I have been able to help people and that has been the best reward. I’ve been able to do everything from deliver babies to help families when a loved one dies,” said Leighton.
There were hard times in his career as well, he said.
“I’ve seen plenty of young kids die from fatal accidents and drownings,” he said.
While the song helped Leighton make the final mental shift toward retirement he said he and his wife “have been talking about it (retirement) but really didn’t have a set time.”
“We just knew we wanted to travel and do some things in our life. So, the finality of it has been kind of sudden but it’s been something we have been dreaming about,” said Leighton.
A Nampa native, when Leighton began on the city fire department there was just one station and 27 firefighters.
“When I left there were 85 and I was managing 27,” he said.
Leighton came to Ontario as fire chief six years ago and faced some challenges.
“My hardest obstacle, early on, was the funding. And my goal was to try to increase the manpower because our call volume was increasing,” said Leighton.
That was no easy task but Leighton made progress.
Just recently, for example, he added a full-time firefighter position to the department’s night shift.
Now the fire department is manned by 33 fulltime and parttime firefighters.
Leighton said his last day will be Oct. 18 – his wife’s birthday – but that hinges some on how fast the city can hire a new fire chief.
“I want this transition to be smooth,” he said.
Ken Hart, Ontario city councilor, said Leighton will be missed.
“He’s been awesome and done a great job. He’s a great leader,” said Hart.
Leighton said he isn’t sure whether he and his wife will remain in Ontario after he retires.
“My grandson lives in Meridian and in the late fall we are heading to the East Coast and then down to the Carolinas. We will have to see how it all shakes out,” he said.
Leighton said it is time to relax.
“It was just time to go to a new chapter and I want to be able to travel,” he said.
Right now, Leighton’s focus is on the fire department but when he hangs up his turnouts for the last time he won’t linger.
He has places to go. People to see. And things to do.
News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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