Steve Conroy, St. Paul’s fire chief for more than 20 years, died last week of pneumonia, family members reported. He was 87.

Contemporaries praised him on Saturday for bringing progressive policies to the Fire Department, where he was chief from 1966 to 1990.

George Latimer, St. Paul’s mayor during much of Conroy’s tenure, credited Conroy with championing the creation of the city’s paramedic service.

Latimer said that in the early ’70s, “long before I was mayor, there was a discussion between police and fire and the city administration about establishing paramedic service. Steve Conroy grabbed ahold of that opportunity and said, ‘We can do that,’ because he saw the need and the capacity of the Fire Department,” Latimer said.

The former mayor said St. Paul’s paramedic services are “extraordinary. And very early on, they had a record of getting to people very quickly, within three or four or five minutes. When you think about it, that is amazing. And it’s been shown time and again that quick response saves lives.”

He added that Conroy’s role in establishing the service was “an outstanding achievement” and a legacy “that continues to this day.”

Conroy left the department in 1990 after being linked to a culture of arson-for-profit that wreaked havoc on St. Paul during the 1980s. Star Tribune reporters Chris Ison and Lou Kilzer won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for their yearlong investigation, “Fire in St. Paul,” which examined shoddy and incomplete fire reports during Conroy’s tenure as chief.

A subsequent federal investigation failed to result in criminal charges against Conroy. He sued the paper for libel, but the suit was later dropped.

Conroy is survived by daughters Kathy and Jill; a son, Steve Jr. (Lyn); a grandson, and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Mathias, and wife, Marylin.

Services were held Saturday at St. Paul’s Church of the Assumption. He will be buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.