The Chicago Sun-Times has an article chronicling Chicago’s new fire commissioner, entitled  From high school dropout to top of the Fire Department ladder.  Excerpts include:

Jose Santiago is the only son of a working-class single mom and a father who was “never around.” He dropped out of Tuley High School at 17 to join the Marines and escape the Humboldt Park street gangs that had swallowed up so many of his friends.

The kid who did what he had to do survive the mean streets is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s choice to become Chicago’s new $202,728-a-year fire commissioner …

“A bunch of my friends that I knew from school were all dead [or] dying. It was just a matter of time. …I had to get out of the neighborhood. If you knew Humboldt Park, you’d better get out of that neighborhood or you’re gonna become a statistic,” Santiago, 56, recalled Monday.

 … he returned to Chicago in 1975 …  At the time, the firefighters’ entrance exam was primarily a test of physical fitness and agility. Since Santiago was a Marine reserve in top physical condition, his score landed him as No. 10 on the hiring list. He was hired in September, 1979, and was on the job for all of two days when he made his first rescue.

But the timing couldn’t have been worse. Within five months, firefighters went out on strike to protest then-Mayor Jane M. Byrne’s decision to confront the very issue that’s expected to be at the center of contentious contract talks between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2: the requirement that every piece of fire apparatus be staffed by a minimum of five firefighters. Santiago was told by his union brethren that the strike would “probably last hours.” Instead, it dragged on for 23 days.

The rookie firefighter … never once considered crossing the picket line.

In fact, Santiago and his colleagues at Engine No. 76 …  spent the strike monitoring [the] fire radio and responding to every fire in their district.

“As soon as there was a fire or something where somebody was injured, we would jump in our personal cars, drive to that area. If we had a fire, we would go in and grab the hose lines from the [firefighters who] crossed the picket lines. There was like 1,000 people who came on [to break the strike]. They did not know which end of the hose” was which, Santiago recalled.

“We’d go inside, put the fire out, make sure everybody was safe. Then we would hand all the tools back, go back to the firehouse and hold our picket signs. … We owned our own fire coats and helmets. But a lot of us were just in blue jeans and gym shoes running into the fire. …We were not gonna let someone die in our neighborhood because of the strike.”

Santiago is perceived, more as a go-along, get-along commissioner who will roll over for whatever economies Emanuel wants to make in the city’s second-largest department. But … [he] … should not be underestimated.

“We’re about to take this [department] into the 21st Century. How can technology help us run better? … How can we make it run efficiently first — before we even look at cutting,” Santiago said.

“We have to reform the job. …There are changes [coming]. …But everything is gonna be done with this big umbrella of safety built over it.”


Read the complete article HERE.