After more than 36 years of public service, Maitland Fire Chief Kim Neisler is retiring.
After nearly four decades of public service, Maitland Fire Chief Kim Neisler is calling it a career. Neisler will retire Jan. 4, 2019 after nearly 37 years – six as one of the five full-time station chiefs at the helm of the Maitland Fire Rescue Department.
Each of the department’s chiefs has brought something to the city department, and Neisler already has an idea of what her legacy will be — an era of thoughtfulness and compassion for her team’s health that she hopes will be continued into the future.
“I like to believe I’m the one that started (this level) of taking care of each other,” she said. There’s always been a brotherhood within our organization … but we truly care about each other. This is not just a job where you go home at the end of the day and forget about your brothers and your sisters.”
Neisler is no stranger to public service; her father is a retired Orlando police captain. Her path to firefighting started with some hands-on experience during high school when, while driving home from SeaWorld, Neisler came upon a man who had been just been hit by a car. She provided initial aid — she already had been taking classes in high school to be a nurse — before paramedics arrived and took over.
“The paramedics were very kind to me; I was enthralled with everything they were doing,” she said. “They allowed me to help them hold things, and that changed my whole focus. I decided I wanted to be a paramedic.”
She was hired by Ezra Hardy, Maitland’s first fire chief soon after she had attended college to be a paramedic. In the beginning, she was the only female firefighter on staff.
“The general public — and even my girlfriends — sometimes don’t get that what I’ve done is firefighting,” Neisler said. “I actually ran into buildings, I went on these calls, being upside down in a vehicle cutting someone out.”
Neisler always had a second paramedic job while she worked with the Maitland department — be it with Universal Studios, an internal medicine doctor’s office, a health clinic and more. One constant, thought, was her love of being part of the action. That introduced some growing pains as Neisler began to climb the ranks — sometimes she had to be pushed to take the new position.
In her years serving the city of Maitland, Neisler made a number of improvements and changes, including the creation of a hazardous-materials team, accreditation for ambulances, supporting a number of health initiatives, and more.
One issue that remains close to her heart is finding new ways to combat trauma and PTSD that firefighters develop on the job. When Neisler was 22, she responded to a fire where a man had shot his son and himself.
“When we got there, all we knew was there was an apartment fire,” she said. “My partner and I went in and found this kid immediately. Back then, we didn’t know about PTSD — it was just ‘suck it up, buttercup.’ I spent the night in the bathroom at the station vomiting from the physical impact of the emotional stress. … It was only a few years later that we started recognizing critical incident stress in firefighters.
“The things we see are horrific, and you can only take so much of that,” Neisler said. “(The trash can) overflows, and it will, because you keep pushing it down, eventually one thing will trigger it.”
She has remained committed to making sure first-responders get help when their trash cans get full. The station has used a management process during which firefighters could talk about events in groups, as well as a peer-supported program in which people are trained to diffuse, listen and identify mental pain. In the future, she hopes there will be more mental-health programs designed specifically for first-responders.
It won’t be a completely uneventful retirement for Neisler. She will continue to work as the fire service liaison with the UCF Restores treatment clinic for veterans, first-responders and people suffering from PTSD. But she said she is also excited to spend time with her family and grandchildren.
“I’ll miss every time I hear a siren go down the road,” she said. “I still want to be in there and get my hands dirty. I’m just going to miss being part of this team.”