Lehigh fire chief’s loss is town’s gain


LEHIGH – Lehigh Fire Chief Kirk Kelley is going to have to go shopping soon.

He has, as a result of not eating much at all, crash-dieted himself into needing a whole new wardrobe.

“I started as a 38-inch waist,” he said Wednesday. “Now, I’m a 36.”

The hunger strike is for a good cause. He’s doing it to raise funds for a new fire station in Lehigh and he’s promised not to eat again until a goal of $480,000 is reached.

So far, $5,000 has been raised and Kelley has lost 28 pounds.

Inspiration for the nearly no calories diet came after several fundraisers failed to produce the desired amount of revenue.

“It was desperation,” Kelley said.

He said that also describes the situation the department faces with its current building.

“It just keeps nickel and diming us, ” he said.

Also, due to the infrastructure around the current building, there’s no room to expand and the area is a noted dead spot for radio transmissions.

“We had a meeting where we didn’t hear the page,” Kelley said.

The department ended up being notified by phone.

But, too, the building is a part of a community’s image, he said.

“A fire department is what a city is,” he said. “We want to see our city succeed. Let’s try to build a better city.”

Kelley does take in some nourishment. He drinks protein drinks, a bit of broth and sometimes juice.

“I take in about 550 to 850 calories a day,” he said. “There were a few times where I hit 1,000, though.”

He also takes vitamins. His physician has given him a reluctant OK.

“He wants me to stay over 700 calories,” he said.

It’s not all good; there are some things he really misses.

“Taco Tico is the hardest for me,” he said. “I just taste it.”

Before the hunger strike, he wasn’t in the habit of rejecting a full plate or a second trip through a buffet.

“The American way is to eat. I am a man that loves food,” he said. “It’s my sacrifice.”

Once he ends the hunger strike, he’ll have to reintroduce his system to solid food gradually.

“I’ll have to start with baby food,” he said, “then work my way back into it.”

Kelley’s gotten a lot of support from his wife, Sarah, and his father, Larry Kelley, a fellow firefighter. That helps keep him on track and on focus.

“A lot of the going has been really emotional,” he said.

The hunger strike has another unintended consequence; since he isn’t eating, Kelley can use his lunch break for other things.

“I play on my phone,” he said. “I can watch several shows.”