Remembering Fire Chief Michael O’Connor

By BROOKE BOUCEK

Fire chief Michael O’Connor at an Ironman Competition in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Nelle O’Connor.

Michael O’Connor was the “epitome of health and wellness,” according to North Shelby County Batallion Chief Mark Turner.

The 56-year-old North Shelby Fire Chief loved to exercise and ran or swam nearly every day. He ran 11 marathons and was proud to complete three Ironman triathlons.

Yet on Jan. 2, O’Connor passed away from a sudden stroke caused by a brain aneurism, leaving behind the fire department as well as his wife, Nelle, and daughter, Laura.

“Mike took care of us,” Batallion Chief Bart Wilkerson said. “His demeanor and positive influence will be remembered at the fire department.”

O’Connor grew up on Long Island in New York and played goalie on the varsity soccer team at Hampton Bays High School, earning him a scholarship to Virginia Wesleyan College. In 2005 he graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Since 1982, O’Connor has been a dedicated firefighter and paramedic for the North Shelby County Fire and Emergency Medical District.

“His ever present vigilance over the department and his guise as a fire chief will be missed most,” said Turner, who knew O’Connor for 30 years. “He was hard working and always gave 110 percent to the fire service and its personnel.”

Over his 33-year career as a firefighter, O’Connor developed as a leader. In 1995 he was promoted to fire chief.

“He truly stepped up and made some positive changes in the department and the community,” Turner said.

O’Connor frequently won over the Alabama legislature for improved state fire building codes. He spent much of his time in Montgomery trying to get fire safety bills passed including one for residential sprinklers.

Before O’Connor became chief, the fire department had only one computer in the offices. In order to keep statistical data, he had more computers installed and used the data to improve the fire safety and other factors in the department. And that’s just a small piece of how he contributed to the North Shelby County community.

O’Connor was a leader in implementing improved processes and introducing advanced fire equipment to improve safety and fire services. He also served a two-year term as president of the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs.

After O’Connor’s sudden death, the North Shelby Fire Board of Trustees set up an emergency meeting and appointed Wilkerson to serve as interim chief.

Wilkerson, who had known O’Connor for 32 years, said O’Connor was his boss but also his friend: “Michael had an optimistic outlook on life, the kind that rubbed off on everyone. This positive attitude will be missed.”

The O’Connor family requests that memorial contributions be made to Shelby Humane Society, 381 McDow Road, Columbiana, AL 35051.

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