o matter the disaster, Chris Buttlar was there. Plans prepared. Ready to lead.
Buttlar, of Sunrise Drive, a Mt. Lebanon firefighter for more than 30 years, retired this summer. He most recently served as deputy chief of operations and emergency management.
“Chris was very good at building relationships throughout the community,” Chief Nick Sohyda said. “He had a huge impact. He was a very strong leader in so many areas. A lot of people went to him for advice. He was good at seeing all sides of a situation.”
Buttlar started with Mt. Lebanon Fire Department in 1991 as a lieutenant. As deputy chief, he led the department’s training platoon before taking over emergency management, which he has been doing for the last 10 years.
As emergency management coordinator, being prepared was a big part of Buttlar’s job. “Emergency management basically spans any emergency, whether it be police, fire, EMS, storms, snowstorms. It’s a 30,000-foot approach to community safety,” he said. He also was in charge of maintaining emergency operations plans and preparing ahead for potentially large disasters.
That included a pandemic. During the avian flu outbreak nearly a decade ago, Mt. Lebanon leaders crafted a continuity of operations plan to prepare for a pandemic. That came in handy in 2020 with COVID-19. The department had a plan in place, and it just needed a few tweaks to meet the situation.
During COVID-19, Buttlar led a community-wide task force that networked agencies, from police, fire and EMS, to the school district and St. Clair Hospital. The task force consulted with doctors at St. Clair and made decisions based on group knowledge, Buttlar said. They also helped secure roughly $200,000 in reimbursements for Mt. Lebanon for some emergency operations that took place during the pandemic.
“It’s challenging at times,” Buttlar said of his role. “Some of the incidents, events like COVID, are very challenging and I kind of liked working with that and being able to be a part of a team to solve a pretty large problem.”
In retirement, Buttlar will miss the fire department, which became his second home. The people were the best part of his job, he said.
But he doesn’t plan on going too far. He plans to return several times a year to cook dinner for the fire department personnel on drill night.
“It’s a second home. I still see it as that. I just don’t sleep there anymore,” he said.
With Buttlar’s departure and the fire department’s addition of an 18th career firefighter, Sohyda saw an opportunity to shift firefighters into new roles. “We put people in positions where we know they’ll be successful and best serve the community,” he said.
Those changes include:
• Deputy Chief Kurt Christofel, who previously led the fire prevention platoon, will now oversee the operations and safety platoon.
• Lt. Dan Morris was moved from the training platoon to the fire prevention platoon. He will take over the emergency management coordinator role and accreditation duties.
• Deputy Chief Loren Hughes, who had run the training platoon, will assume the role overseeing fire prevention.
• Lt. Mike Stohner, who previously was a member of the resource management platoon, was promoted to deputy chief and reassigned to the training platoon.
• Lt. Joe Gavita, who served as a member of the community outreach platoon, was moved to the fire inspection platoon.
• Lt. Josh Sadowy and Lt. Adam Zelenko joined Mt. Lebanon Fire Department in late July.
Sadowy, 31, of Fruithurst Drive, hails from Beaver County where his dad is a member of the Baden Volunteer Fire Department. When Sadowy turned 18, he joined the Baden VFD.
While attending school at Penn State Behrend, he continued volunteering at Perry Hi-Way Hose Company in Erie, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and technology in 2013. He returned to Baden and still is on the roster at the volunteer fire company there today.
When he saw the job opening at the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department he went for it, because, as he put it simply: “They’re the best!”
“It’s a great community and I know there’s a lot of community focus here,” added Sadowy, who moved to Mt. Lebanon with his wife, Courtney.
Zelenko, 26, grew up in Edgewood. He joined the Forest Hills Volunteer Fire Department after high school, and is still a member.
Zelenko graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in information systems management and supply chain management in 2017. That year, he was hired by the Allegheny County Airport Authority Fire/Rescue Department as a firefighter.
He also worked part time on the police desk in Edgewood, while serving as a driver for the fire department. He later became a part-time firefighter in McKeesport.
He’s excited to join Mt. Lebanon Fire Department and looking forward to moving here with his fiancé, Kelly Fleckenstein.
“It’s a good opportunity. This department is well regarded throughout the region and even the country,” he said.