116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — John Grier had no intention of becoming a firefighter, but the “timing was right” and it led him to a nearly 30-year career with the Iowa City Fire Department.
Growing up, he lived a block from the fire station in Canton, Ill. where his father was fire chief. Even though he was always around the fire station, he didn’t think it was something he wanted to pursue as a career.
He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in psychology and began working as a certified mental health counselor. But there was a volunteer fire department nearby, and Grier signed up with a friend to volunteer.
He thought maybe it was something he wanted to pursue after all.
While getting his firefighter certification, Grier met two people from Iowa City who encouraged him to take the entrance exam.
“I was testing all over Illinois, too, so I was on a number of eligibility lists,” Grier said. “Iowa City was the first one that called, so I picked up and moved over here.”
Grier’s first day as a firefighter with the Iowa City Fire Department was Aug. 10, 1992. Nearly 30 years later, the fire chief is retiring in February.
“I feel like I'm leaving the department in a good place and to let somebody else pick it up and take it from here,” Grier said, adding that his time at the department seems to have gone by quickly.
Grier started as a firefighter and climbed the ranks, serving as lieutenant, captain, battalion chief and fire marshal before being selected as chief in 2013. He also worked part-time as a paramedic for Johnson County Ambulance Service for more than 20 years.
“I got to do a little bit everything here,” said Grier, 57.
Reflecting on his 29-year career, Grier said there are a number of things he’s proud of, including getting a new training facility for the department after the previous one was closed due to development in the Riverfront Crossings District.
He also said he is proud of the department’s “top-notch” equipment and vehicles, as well as acquiring land for a fifth fire station. During his time as chief, Grier said call volume has “certainly increased.”
The department is projecting 8,000 calls this year, Grier said. In 2019, the fire department responded to 7,430 calls for service.
Grier said he’s grateful for his mentors, including previous fire chief Andy Rocca. He said he’s fortunate to have worked with previous City Manager Tom Markus and current City Manager Geoff Fruin.
“I hope people have the same experience here that I did and that they still enjoy coming to work,” Grier said.
He said he’s looking forward to the next thing, which includes moving to Bradenton, Fla., to be closer to his parents, spending more time with his family, relaxing and traveling.
Search for next chief
Grier’s retirement will be effective Feb. 11, Fruin said in an email. The recruitment schedule aligns with Grier’s planned last day.
The city posted a job opening for fire chief on Oct. 5 that closes on Nov. 12.
The fire chief is appointed by the city manager and approved by the Civil Service Commission and the Iowa City Council. The chief is responsible for an annual operating budget of $9.2 million and a sworn staff of 63 employees, according to the job listing.
Candidates are required to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in business, public administration or fire science. More than seven years of experience in fire and rescue management is required, as well as a valid driver’s license. The chief hired must live in Iowa City.
The starting salary for the position ranges from $100,276.80 to $158,912, according to the job listing.
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