Posts Tagged Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy

Elgin Fire Department news

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Elgin City Manager Rick Kozal promoted Assistant Fire Chief Dave Schmidt to fire chief.  Schmidt steps into a post that was held by John Fahy, who retired this summer after more 30 years as a firefighter. Fahy now works for Elgin Community College as Senior Director of Academic Programming and Public Safety at the new ECC Center for Emergency Services in Burlington.

Schmidt. a 27-year veteran was hired on at just 22 years of age. When he began working in the Elgin Fire Department, the city had just four fire stations — it now has seven. They had just started to do hazardous material rescues, and the focus was still largely on fires.

Now, about 80 percent of their calls are for emergency medical services. While they still fight fires, how firefighters approach those fires is very different from back then. Instead of running into a home to fight the blaze from inside, they are often staying outside long enough to knock down the fire before determining if it is safe inside. Some of the new construction materials don’t hold up to fire like old, structural wood did.

While not running into a burning building is anathema for many firefighters, it is the safest thing for them, Schmidt said.

Schmidt also remembers when for Elgin’s largest buildings, they had a three-ring binder with plans and layouts for the building. Now, those plans are on tablets in the fire command vehicle. Those same tablets allow firefighters to track medical records for patients they’ve worked with before, track their EKGs, and provide information gathered in the field to the hospital.

Schmidt said he’s been heavily involved in making sure Elgin firefighters don’t just have access to the technology, but are trained in that tech as well.

On Tuesday, he was part of a mandatory CPR training class. While there is so much technology available to firefighters, CPR is still the basic response for many emergencies, he said.

The city will be using its own human resources department to conduct a broad, national search to find Schmidt’s replacement. Elgin’s fire department has two assistant chief spots, with the other currently held by Bryan McMahan. As many new firefighters were added between 1989-91 when new fire stations were built, those firefighters are getting close to having 25-30 years on the department — retirement age for them, Schmidt said.

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Elgin Fire Department news

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Elgin firefighters retired the colors at Station One along Summit Street on Thursday afternoon, marking the retirement of Chief John Fahy.

After being presented the folded flag, Fahy said he was grateful and thanked his family, colleagues and the city for the opportunities that came from being a firefighter.

Fahy worked as a firefighter in Aurora for six months before coming to the Elgin department in February 1987. He was named chief by outgoing former City Manager Sean Stegall and took the post in January 2011.

Prior to that, Fahy led the fire union for six years. He also served on the Kane County Board from 2006 to 2010 as a Republican representing District 21, which covers West Dundee, where he and his family live.

Fahy noted that during his tenure, the department upgraded technology; doubled available paramedic service to the community; started a community outreach program with each station adopting a social service agency to support; upgraded its fleet with the purchase of several ambulances, ladder trucks and fire engines; remodeled stations; and began an Explorer program for youths.

Fahy retires from a job that paid him about $168,000 a year, and he now heads to Elgin Community College to become senior director of academic programming and public safety at the new ECC Center for Emergency Services in Burlington, a post that pays $85,000 annually.

Assistant Chief Dave Schmidt will be acting chief through early October, during what’s left of Fahy’s vacation time with the city. After that, Kozal will name Fahy’s replacement.

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Elgin Fire Department news

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As Elgin firefighters have voted to ratify a new contract — with the City Council set to vote on approving the deal Wednesday — Fire Chief John Fahy announced his retirement Friday. Fahy said that he would be leaving to take a job with the Elgin Community College.

Lt. Vince Rychtanek, International Association of Firefighters Local 439 President, said the union and the city avoided arbitration in coming to an agreement on the new contract. The last contract expired in 2013, and the new one covers 2014 to 2017. Per recession-related concessions, the old contract had no annual salary increases. The one up for council consideration has 2.5 percent annual pay hikes built into it.

Rychtanek said there were no other major changes, but that firefighters now will be able to bid on the station at which they would like to work after 20 years of service — something not in the old deal.

Fahy said firefighter starting pay is about $68,000 per year. Fahy retires from a job that paid him about $168,000 a year, and will he heading to Elgin Community College to become senior director of academic programming and public safety at the new ECC Center for Emergency Services in Burlington. The post pays $85,000.

Assistant Chief Dave Schmidt will be acting chief from late August through early October, Fahy said, during what’s left of his vacation time with the city. In August, current Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal becomes Elgin’s manager and eventually will name Fahy’s replacement.

Fahy worked as a firefighter in Aurora for six months before coming to the Elgin department in February 1987. He was named chief in late 2010 and took the post in January 2011. As chief, he was most proud of the department recently receiving a rating by the Insurance Services Office that places it among the top 2 percent of fire departments in the nation.

During his tenure as chief, Fahy said the department has upgraded technology; doubled available paramedic service to the community with a paramedic-engine concept; started a community outreach program with each station adopting a social service agency to support; upgraded its fleet with the purchase of several ambulances, ladder trucks, and fire engines; remodeled several aging fire stations; and began a Fire Explorer unit for youths.

The department is close to marking 150 years, Fahy said, and he was its 16th chief.

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Elgin Fire Department news

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An Elgin Fire Department lieutenant was demoted and two others also were disciplined after an investigation revealed they took explicit photos and videos of themselves and exchanged them while on duty, city officials said.

Lt. Amanda Bruce was demoted to firefighter, while firefighters John Sardina and Eric McMahon lost their special assignments, as driver and mechanic respectively, in agreements reached Tuesday between the employees, the International Association of Firefighters Local 439 and the city of Elgin, the documents of which the Daily Herald obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The three received 20-day suspensions, and the city can terminate them if they display similar conduct in the next three years, the agreements state.

While on duty at Elgin fire stations, Bruce and Sardina took sexually oriented photos and videos of themselves, and McMahon took sexually oriented photos of himself, according to a Feb. 17 investigative report by the city’s professional standards officer, also released via the FOIA.

All materials depict the firefighters alone. Sardina and McMahon sent their own images to Bruce, and she sent her images to Sardina and an unnamed boyfriend, the report states. The photos and videos are from 2009 through 2013.

Fire Chief John Fahy said the employees have fully taken responsibility for their actions. “They never denied it and wanted to make amends for the misconduct that happened on duty a few years back.”

The Daily Herald submitted its FOIA request March 10. City officials asked for a five-day extension that would have run out Thursday. The timing of the disciplinary settlement was unrelated to the FOIA request, Fahy said.

“This was in the pipeline,” he said. “The extension was to release a complete package, because we were in negotiations with the employees and we were coming to the conclusion with the discipline.”

The materials include videos of Bruce in a fire station’s women’s bathroom and photos in various states of undress, the report states. Bruce told city officials she was on duty when she used her cellphone to take the photos and videos, and sent them using her personal email.

Sardina’s photos include some taken in fire station bathrooms; the video depicts him in his fire station bunk. In one photo, Sardina is coming out of a fire station shower with a towel around his waist; Bruce told city officials she took the photo, the report states.

McMahon’s selfies include some taken in the bathroom of Elgin fire stations, the report states.

Fahy said the matter surfaced nearly two years ago when Elgin Fire Battalion Chief Terrence Bruce reported to an assistant chief his then-wife Amanda had engaged in misconduct involving Sardina and McMahon, Fahy said.

The city asked Terry Bruce to bring in evidence of the allegations but then realized he couldn’t be compelled to do that and returned the evidence to him, City Manager Sean Stegall said.

The city obtained the evidence a few months later, after Amanda Bruce told Elgin police her then-husband “had gained unauthorized and possibly illegal access to certain personal information” including videos and photos. She made a police report in October 2014 saying Terry Bruce gave the materials to an attorney who served as a guardian ad litem for their children in divorce proceedings, the report states.

Elgin police obtained a copy of the materials from the attorney and conducted a criminal investigation that ended in April 2015, when the Kane County state’s attorney’s office determined criminal charges would not be pursued.

An administrative investigation was launched in May 2015 to find out if any of the misconduct took place while on duty. The lengthy process involved hiring a company to extract time and date stamps from the photos and videos, and comparing those to staffing records, Fahy said. “We were not in a hurry. We wanted to get this right.”

Fahy said he initially wanted to fire the three employees for the on-duty misconduct but changed his mind.

“These are three good employees with stellar records, and they had a bad day,” he said. “My decision to discipline them instead of termination is appropriate.”

thanks Dan

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Elgin Fire Department promotions

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Braydon Whalen pinned his grandfather’s Elgin Fire Department badge on his own father, Mitch, marking the Elgin firefighter’s promotion to lieutenant in a ceremony Monday filled with tradition.

Mitch Whalen was one of four Elgin firefighters promoted up the fire department’s higher ranks Monday. Bryan McMahan became assistant chief, Robb Cagann became a battalion chief and Joseph VanDorpe became a captain. The department also swore in two new firefighters, Matthew Regan and Adam Subleski during a ceremony at the Centre of Elgin.

Monday’s ceremony was “historic in nature” and meaningful not only to firefighters but for the Elgin community to see its fire department growing, Fire Chief John Fahy said.

The Elgin Fire Department is among the top 2 percent in the nation and responds to more than 11,000 emergency calls a year, Fahy said.

“Today, you become one of us. I expect you live by the duty, tradition and honor of the Elgin Fire Department,” Fahy said, introducing the new fire candidates.

McMahan, Cagann, Whalen and VanDorpe thanked their families and those who helped them throughout their careers. McMahan said his wife helps him find balance between family and work. Cagann was overwhelmed by the number of people coming out to support the fire department. Becoming a battalion chief has been a dream, he said. “I am truly honored to be given this opportunity,” he said.

VanDorpe was joined by his wife, children, his father, Fred, a retired Chicago firefighter and three brothers, two Chicago firefighters and one, Peter VanDorpe, who is chief of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District. Joseph VanDorpe’s son, Chris, is a Chicago firefighter.

Whalen’s family has a long history of firefighting in Elgin. His great-grandfather was on the fire department and his father, Marc, was on the department for 27 years. His uncle, Michael Whalen, was one of two Elgin firefighters who gave their lives in 1974 trying to save a teenager caught in the Kimball Street dam.

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Elgin FD invests in strategic planning

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Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy is a fan of the classic Yogi Berra quote “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” That philosophy, of having a roadmap into the future, is one of the reasons the Elgin Fire Department recently completed its first, 2015-2020 strategic plan, Fahy said.

Developed this spring with the help of The Center for Public Safety Excellence working as consultants for about $15,000, the final plan was released last week. Elgin joins just 10 percent of fire departments nationwide that have developed formal strategic plans, Fahy said.

Assistant Fire Chief Dave Schmidt was one of 32 internal stakeholders — fire department staff — that helped refine and define the information they received from external stakeholders who attended focus groups.

Previous plans were not formalized and often left the rank-and-file firefighters out of the process, Fahy said. Neither did they bring in the public to get an outside look at the department. Also, with many of the department’s top leadership getting close to retirement age — including Fahy, assistant chiefs and battalion chiefs — the plan also helps to formalize succession plans in the department.

“By 2020, the majority of the staff will probably be retired,” with 30 years on the job, Schmidt noted.

At the end of the process, the strategic plan looked at seven main areas and created goals for each. Those areas are internal communications, external communications and community outreach, disaster preparedness, fire prevention, workforce planning and development, health and wellness, and public education.

In the past, Fahy said, it was easier for a fire chief to go before city councils and ask for needed equipment. But in a new data-driven age, fire departments need to not just justify their needs, but show data on why it is needed and what the benefit would be not just to the department, but the community. The department and its consultants invited 130 community stakeholders to the focus groups. Of that, 90 showed up, Fahy said.

The consultants were amazed, he said, because it shows a high degree of public buy-in to the department and city operations. Once the focus groups where over, the internal stakeholders took over and refined the ideas brought up during the public input sessions.

Fahy said he also stayed out of the process to a large degree, knowing firefighters may be more willing to speak their minds when the boss wasn’t in the room.

Often, boards can create strategic plans then watch those plans gather dust on the shelf, Fahy and Schmidt agreed. Each of the seven goals have objectives with timeframes, tasks and estimates for funding. Each objective will be assigned to personnel responsible for completing it. Many of the objectives build upon the one before it being completed.

The workforce planning and development goal looks at current staffing levels and how they relate to service demands, then further identifies staffing needs based on demand for service.

Further down the line, those service and staffing objectives include evaluating personnel management and organizational development programs — preparing current firefighters for future leadership positions.

Elgin firefighters, as well as other departments nationwide, have reported fighting fewer fires as homes are built better. Here, about 75 percent of total calls for service are for medical calls, and 25 percent for fires, crashes, hazardous materials and other reasons, Schmidt said. The strategic plan will help determine the best way to deploy existing personnel and equipment to serve that need, Fahy said.

“At the end … we will be a more-efficient, more-trained and a more communicative department,” Fahy said.

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Elgin Fire Department touts advances

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From an automated way to fill holes in scheduling, to ambulances holding mobile cots designed to transport the morbidly obese, in recent years, the Elgin Fire Department has been taking advantage of advances in technology to upgrade its equipment and streamline operations.

Fire Chief John Fahy spoke about these moves at the June 10 City Council meeting.

… inspectors now input information into laptop computers, sending the information directly into the department’s database and sending it electronically to the business (instead of using paper forms)

Another change [is] using computer scheduling software through which messages are sent to off duty firefighters requesting their services to fill absences. The task used to take up to five hours, and now it takes about 30 minutes for a battalion chief to complete.

The department also has been using software for the classroom side of continuing training for firefighters.

On the operational side, among its vehicles the department in recent years purchased a quint for Station 7 on the city’s far west side. A quint is a multipurpose unit equipped with fire pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders — a combo of a ladder truck and fire engine.

“A host of technological upgrades to our engines have allowed us to turn each and every fire engine in the city into a paramedic engine,” Fahy said.

New cardiac monitors allow Elgin paramedics to communicate electronically with the department’s reporting system. And along with incorporating this new tech, the department has shifted its procedures for cardiac arrest care in the field.

Elgin now uses a NASCAR-like pit crew style for running a full arrest call, assigning specific jobs to paramedics and EMTs in a full arrest scenario in order to make sure that the highest quality CPR can be delivered in the location where the patient arrested. Fahy said this change has raised the number of cases in which patients return to spontaneous circulation from 14 percent in 2013 to 37 percent today.

This city in recent times has been averaging about 8,000 ambulance calls a year, and reports for those runs years ago went digital. …  “And reports now can be sent directly to our billing agent” Fahy said.

Two summers ago, the department upgraded an ambulance so that patients weighing up to 700 pounds can be more safely secured and transported.

Two new ambulances delivered June 10 and being readied for the road came equipped with power load systems which have special rails on their cots that adjust to secure patients. Ambulance crews line up the cots with the power load arms, and the system automatically lifts and loads patients.

As for other technologies that might be down the road for the department, Fahy mentioned that the police and fire departments are jointly looking at possibly getting a drone.

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Elgin firefighters honor two who drowned in 1974

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It was a beautiful, sunny June afternoon that Sunday in 1974 when Michael Whalen and Stan Balsis gave their lives rescuing a man in the Fox River, three now-retired Elgin firefighters who were there that day recalled Tuesday.

Forty-one years after Firefighter Whalen, 25, and Fire Capt. Balsis, 45, died, about 20 firefighters plus Balsis’ son Curt gathered at the memorial to the dead rescuers along the edge of the Kimball Street Dam in Elgin. Exactly at 5:01 p.m., the time the alarm went out, two retirees who had been there that day, Larry Judkins and Frank Craig Eadler, threw a wreath of flowers into the river from the nearby Kimball Street Bridge. Those at the side of the river saluted.

Whalen and Balsis had entered the water below the dam on June 2, 1974, because a 20-year-old man in an inflatable raft had gone over the dam and gotten himself trapped in the boiling water at its base. The man eventually got free of the churning water. But Whalen and Balsis fell out of their aluminum rescue boat and were trapped in the boiling current.

As scores of people watched in horror from the bridge, first Whalen and then Basis were drowned after a drama that went on for some 40 minutes.

Eadler recalled that the firefighters were submerged, then coughed back up, then resubmerged over and over in the boiling current below the dam as they tried to escape.

Standing on the west bank, Eadler recalled, he got a rope to Balsis. But, exhausted and with his collarbone broken by the vicious current, Balsis just couldn’t hold on any longer. Whalen already had drowned about 20 minutes before that.

Ten minutes later a Coast Guard helicopter arrived overhead from Chicago’s North Shore, but it was too late.

But as the flowered wreath went over the dam, then popped back out of the below-dam current in just a few seconds, Balsis said, “if only my dad had come out of there that fast.”

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The Elgin Fire Department Tuesday remembered two of its own who died 41 years ago while rescuing two teenagers.

Retired firefighter Larry Judkins dropped a wreath from the Kimball Street bridge into the Fox River to commemorate the deaths of Station 2 Pipeman Michael Whalen and his captain, Stanley Balsis. Standing with him was retired firefighter/EMT Craig Eadler. Both men were part of the rescue crew and saw Whalen and Balsis die.

“Those guys were heroes,” Judkins said. “They actually saved the kids in the water, but we couldn’t save them.”

The ceremony took place at 5:01 p.m., the time the call came in June 2, 1974. The tradition started about five years ago, Chief John Fahy said.

“There is no greater sacrifice a firefighter can give than laying down their life to save a fellow human being,” Fahy said. “Stan Balsis and Michael Whalen made that sacrifice 41 years ago, forever changing the lives of the Balsis and Whalen families. May they rest in peace.”

Two teens had, on a dare, ridden a raft over the dam on the flood-swollen river but capsized in the hydraulic roller, or boil, below the dam. Both teenagers survived.

The firefighters were killed when their rescue boat capsized. Whalen died almost immediately when their boat slammed against the concrete wall of the dam, while Balsis held on to the capsized boat for 45 minutes before the waters took him.

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Elgin starts Explorer program

The Daily Herald has an article about a new Explorer program with the Elgin Fire Department:

The Elgin Fire Department is starting a Fire Explorer program with the hope of inspiring young people to become firefighters while adding diversity to its ranks.

The program, open to youths 14 to 20 years old, is expected to kick off in early fall, said Elgin firefighter George Steiner, who spearheaded the initiative.

The curriculum will mirror much of the fire academy training required for entry-level firefighters, albeit at a much slower pace, Steiner said. The program will meet twice a month.

Right off the bat, Explorers will learn CPR and First Aid; other topics will include fire behavior, extrication, ladders, fire hoses, water behavior, forcible entry, ventilation and rescue, Steiner said.

The program is estimated to cost about $15,000 per year, including materials, helmets and uniforms, he said. Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said the cost will be covered partially by the department’s public education budget, and the rest hopefully by city money set aside for diversity initiatives.

“The program was probably long overdue,” Fahy said. “If you’re an Elgin student and you wanted to learn about the fire service, you had to join the South Elgin Fire Explorer program. The program will combine on- and off-duty officers and yield a minimal amount of overtime, Fahy said.

Elgin firefighter Mike Przybylski agreed. Education will come above everything else, as the kids will be required to maintain a C or better average in school, Przybylski said.

Much of the new program is modeled upon Elgin’s long-standing Police Explorer program and the Aurora Fire Explorer program, created in 2002.

Firefighter Carl DeCarlo, who’s also the fire science instructional coordinator at Elgin Community College, has been instrumental in putting together the new Elgin program, Przybylski said. In the future, Explorers might be eligible to get an EMT-Basic license through ECC upon completion of the program, he said.

The first class will consist of 20 Explorers. Candidates will have to pass a basic physical test and go through an interview process. There will be a Fire Explorer open house and orientation from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 12, at Fire Station No. 2, 650 Big Timber Drive, Elgin. For details, call (847) 931-6181 or (847) 931-6177, or email

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Elgin memorial service remembers firefighters

The Daily Herald has an article about a memorial held for firefighters who perished in 1974.

Eight Elgin firefighters are listed on a wall at Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum that honors those who died of injuries suffered on duty. Two had heart attacks; one injured a leg and died of the resulting infection; one died of a concussion; one was crushed under the wheels of a fire truck; and one died of a shotgun injury.

Saturday, firefighters remembered the two who lost their lives 40 years ago this summer, trying to save a teenager from drowning in the boil under the Kimball Street dam on the Fox River. Two teens had, on a dare, ridden a raft over the dam on the flood-swollen river. They capsized in the hydraulic roller, or boil, below the dam. One was thrown free; the other was stuck.

To his rescue came Station 2 Pipeman Michael Whalen and his captain, Stanley Balsis, said current Fire Chief John Fahy.

“They did what they are supposed to do. They got their boat in the water and they were the ready to go,” Fahy said of Balsis and Whalen.

Both were killed when their rescue boat capsized. Whalen died almost immediately when their boat slammed against the concrete wall of the dam.

Balsis held on to the capsized boat for 45 minutes, with a broken arm and a separated shoulder, battered by the roil. Efforts to save him proved fruitless, as he could not hang on to flotation devices firefighters threw to him to pull him out. The raging waters took him.

Both teenagers survived the tragedy.

Besides remembering three Illinois firefighters who died on the job in the past year, the representatives also detailed former members of their departments who have died in the last year.

“Once you are a firefighter, you are always a firefighter. It’s what you do. It’s what you wanted to do. It’s how you lived your lives,” Fahy said.

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