Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
Terrence Vavra, the new fire chief for the Norwood Park Fire Protection District, originally studied to be an architect.
Working with architects, though, he began to see how the legal side and structural aspects demands of the job might interfere with his vision of an architect’s life.
“About the same time,” he recalled, “my dad and I were standing on a porch, and we saw the engine go by and guys hanging off the back, back in the day when you could … and I said yow — I wonder where they’re going; that would be cool to do as a side gig.”
That side gig turned into a 40-year career, starting as a volunteer firefighter with the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District in 1976 becoming fire chief of Buffalo Grove and the emergency management coordinator, before retiring in 2015.
In February of this year, the Board of Trustees of the Norwood Park Fire Protection District named him the new fire chief for the district. The board approved a three-year contract at a special meeting on Feb. 9. The trustees cited Vavra’s extensive career and focus on training and leadership as strong factors in his final selection.
Vavra succeeds Chief Kevin Stenson, a 31-year-member of the department.
Vavra hold a master’s degree in management and organizational behavior from Benedictine University and a bachelor’s degree from Western University Illinois. He holds numerous certifications from the Office of the State Fire Marshal including chief fire officer, fire department safety officer, training program manager, as well as a National Fire Academy certification in command and control.
He is an active member in the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Illinois Fire Chiefs, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs and has served as a board member of the Lake County Fire Chiefs Association.
During the two years he was retired, his teaching took him from Canada to Saudi Arabia. Though the locales and local cultures were vastly different, one thing he found realized is that all firefighters are the same no matter where you go. “They’ve got a certain personality to them which is really neat, and you can also get a cup of coffee at any firehouse in the world.”
That theory was confirmed In Saudi Arabia, when he came to meet the chief of the department where he was leading a class, “and right behind his desk was a coffee maker and he said ‘Do you want a cup of coffee?” and I thought it’s 100 degrees out, I don’t think so, but thanks for the offer.”
Norwood Park has 21 firefighters and contracts with Paramedic Services of Illinois. Two ambulances, an engine, a truck and shift commander work out of the station. The department works closest with the communities of Park Ridge, Schiller Park, and Elmwood Park.
All fire departments are facing tax caps, pension costs, and personnel costs. The problems are similar, and the question is how do we work to solve those problems.
Vavra is expected to stress training and higher education certification, beyond the certification process set out by the state Fire Marshal’s Office. At Benedictine, he worked with the school administration to set up a scholarship program, allowing firefighters to pursue higher education credits.
“When I started, everything was mechanical,” he said. “Now it’s all digital and electronic. We had fires that were wood and paper, what we classified as combustibles. Now if you look in this room you wouldn’t find any natural products.
“These are all polycarbons and plastics and things that have a huge fire potential, and the fire burns faster and higher now so we have to adapt to that.”