Lakeland interim fire chief made official at swearing-in

Polk Fire Rescue officially has a new leader. Robert Weech was sworn-in Wednesday as the chief during a ceremony at Polk State Center for Public Safety.

He has been the interim chief for the last few months.

“I am very excited,” Weech told FOX 13. “Very challenged. I would be lying if I didn’t say a little nervous.”

Weech now heads up a county department with nearly 600 employees, who receive upwards of 250 calls for help every day.

He is stepping into a difficult situation.

The last chief and a captain retired under pressure after Loretta Pickard died in a house fire while she was on with 911 for 20 minutes. She expected the firefighters who battling the blaze to come in and rescue her, but they never did.

Polk County Commissioners demanded change. Weech is now responsible to make it happen.

In the last few months, as interim chief, he has hired two officers who will teach a new training course that will begin in January.

“We’ll have all of our engines staffed with three persons,” he told FOX 13. “That’s a big step for us.”

Until now, nine engines were only staffed by two workers, each.