“I grew up in a very tight-knit community where other people’s parents were like your parents. You knew people were watching out for each other. I wanted to give back to my community.” That passion for wanting to make sure people were safe led to his current position as Senior Building Official in Kenton County, Ky.
We have all heard about major disasters that influence future codes. But for ICC Board Director William Jeff Bechtold an infamous fire had a personal side that influenced his career choice.
Bechtold has a solid resume, including a host of certifications, service on committees and commissions, and a dedication that drives him to make sure as many people as possible know about the Code Council and its mission: Protect the health, safety and welfare of people by creating safe buildings and communities.
What you won’t find it on his resume—and Bechtold admits he isn’t always consciously aware of it—is the underlying reason he likely devoted himself to the mission of building safety.
Those who live in the greater Cincinnati area, including northern Kentucky, never will forget May 28, 1977. The posh Beverly Hills Supper Club, which touted itself as the “Showplace of the Nation,” burned to the ground, killing 165 people.
“My uncle, who also was my godfather, died in that fire,” said Bechtold, who would have been about 14 at the time. “And the resulting investigation into the causes had major implications for future codes and safe construction.”
And he admits the horrific event is likely, if unconsciously, the reason he always cared about doing things safely, no matter what road he was taking.
Four years after the fire, Bechtold graduated from high school in Erlanger, Ky., and went into the Air Force, where he became a jet engine mechanic. After his tour was up, military downsizing and a glut of jet engine mechanics made advancement in unlikely.
So Bechtold followed a friend’s advice and went into concrete construction. Not only did he get pretty good at concrete finishing, but for the next 13 years, his job continually have him a great sense of satisfaction.
“Every night when I went home from work, I left something behind that was finished,” he said. “It might take you a week or two to frame a house. But with concrete construction, you could see the fruits of your work each day.”
About the same time he entered that profession, something drove Bechtold to join the volunteer fire departments in Erlanger and Elsmere, retiring from the latter as its assistant chief in 2004. He says it was a “sense of service” that moved him to join the fire service.
“I grew up in a very tight-knit community where other people’s parents were like your parents,” he said. “You knew people were watching out for each other. I wanted to give back to my community.” That passion for wanting to make sure people were safe broadened in 1995 when he became a property maintenance tech in Boone County, Ky. Three years later, he threw in the trowel completely and took a job in Boone County as assistant building inspector. Six years later, he took on his current job as Senior Building Official in Kenton County, Ky.
Along the way, Bechtold found another sense of community as he began attending committee meetings of state and regional building groups.
“What really drew me to those groups were the people,” he said. “When I attended meetings, they always made a point of coming over to me, welcoming me and remembering me the next time. And slowly I got to know people I could count on if I had a question, and I could just pick up the phone. “And then I wanted to become one of those people who would help others like they helped me.”
After Bechtold was elected an ICC Director at the 2014 Annual Conference, he stepped down from one of his state board positions. It was bittersweet, he admitted, but necessary.
“There was no reason for me holding on to a spot when it would allow another person to move up,” he said. “I always liked bringing new people in. They bring new ideas with them.”
As a Board Member, Bechtold wants to keep finding ways to use cdpACCESS, which he says is crucial to ICC maintaining its reputation in the building community. The recession made it difficult for a lot of jurisdictions to weigh in personally at code hearings, he said, and that hasn’t gotten much better yet.
“If a code change passes with just 18 votes, what good is that?” Bechtold said. “We need to have as many of our Members weighing in as possible, for their educated input and to validate those codes as the best in the business.”
When he’s not working, Bechtold likes to hunt and fish, and to spend time with his 20-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, who’s on the high school football team. As a coach for the team, Bechtold shares a lot of time with his son in the Friday night lights. His daughter was able to accompany him to the ICC Annual Conference where he was first-elected to the Board by his peers and colleagues.