Bill Markgraf, who served as Columbia's fire chief for 23 years, died unexpectedly Friday at his home. He was 84.

He was chief of the Columbia Fire Department from 1988 to 2011 when the department was undergoing significant expansion. During his tenure, three new fire stations were built.

Markgraf was known for his knowledge of fire safety including fire prevention, firefighter air supply and fire administration.

“He didn't want to do anything else in his life besides working with the fire service,” said Steven Sapp, a former battalion chief, when Markgraf retired. 

Markgraf was born Dec. 6, 1936, in Joliet, Illinois, and graduated from Joliet Township High School. 

He later earned an associate of arts degree in fire science from the College of DuPage and a bachelor’s degree in business and public administration, as well as a master’s degree in human learning and development from Governor’s State University, both higher education institutions in Illinois.

When he turned 18, he joined the East Joliet Fire Department and continued with the Volunteer Department until the mid 2000s.

In 1977, he became the fire chief in University City, a suburb of St. Louis, where he served for 11 years. He then moved to Columbia where he served as fire chief before retiring in 2011. Altogether, he spent more than 55 years in fire service.

He was also an accomplished musician, playing the saxophone and clarinet. In 1953 his high school band went to Washington, D.C., to perform for President Eisenhower’s inauguration.

After graduation he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and played in an Air Force Band near Detroit. Markgraf continued his music by playing in the Columbia Community Band.

He was a lifelong member of the International Fire Chief Association and past president of the Missouri Valley Fire Chiefs Association. He was also an active member of the Rotary Club in Columbia, where he served as president for one year.

His family will receive friends from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bach-Yager Funeral Chapel, 1610 N. Garth Ave.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, 914 West Blvd.