After 30 years of service, Baltimore City Fire Department Assistant Chief Raymond Lehr stepped down yesterday to pursue other interests.
Lehr, 48, officially retires in June, but with accrued vacation time, was able to leave early. He plans to begin work Monday for Virginia-based TRW, developing communications systems for such locales as the United Kingdom and Austin, Texas. As assistant chief in charge of planning and technical services, Lehr had helped design the department's 800-megahertz radio system, through which he coordinated helicopter landings during last February's Charles Tower fire in downtown Baltimore.
Lehr said the department provided him "a great opportunity to really serve people in a really direct way. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the fire department. Baltimore City has a top-notch department."
A native of Hampden, Lehr graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1969. He had started the fire protection technology curriculum at Community College of Baltimore, when he and classmate Joseph M. McKenzie, now a city fire battalion chief, decided to be among the first 18-year-olds to join the fire department when the age requirement was lowered from 21.
After becoming a firefighter in 1970, Lehr was promoted to lieutenant in 1974. He became a captain in 1976, and a battalion chief in 1980. In 1990, he was promoted to deputy chief.
After that position was eliminated, Chief Herman Williams Jr., who had been one of Lehr's fire academy instructors, named Lehr one of four assistant chiefs in 1993.
"He showed the ability to be a real leader," Williams said yesterday. "He's been an outstanding employee for all these years. We're losing a good man."
Lehr was responsible for the department's buildings and the computer and radio systems. He was also a labor negotiator and occasionally served as acting chief, officials said.
As a battalion chief, he helped lead efforts to knock down the 1988 Autoline fire in Fells Point, preventing it from reaching the Allied Chemical plant.
He earned several commendations, including one for rescuing a pregnant woman from a dwelling fire on North Broadway in the mid-1970s and one as a deputy chief for leading a search team into a collapsed building in the 500 block of Winston Ave. to rescue three firefighters in 1992.
On Feb. 15, the Optimist Club of Midtown Baltimore gave him the 1999 Thomas J. Burke Memorial Firefighter of the Year Award.
Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres said Lehr's absence will not go unnoticed. "He has always been well liked. I think he was perceived as someone who was very receptive to opinions and suggestions and made people feel very at ease. He was perceived as being very open and very knowledgeable."