New chief brings family focus to Lombard Fire Department
Family, firefighting and Lombard run deep in the life of Paul DiRienzo.
Lombard's new fire chief has two brothers, a sister, a niece and his mother all living in town, as well as 29 years of experience with the department.
Meet Chief Paul DiRienzo
Family: Wife Beth; daughter Juliana, 23; sons Alex, 21; Sam, 17; Joey, 13
Hobbies: Fishing, biking, triathlons
Favorite sport: Baseball
Favorite team: Cubs
Favorite food: Ice cream
Favorite music: '80s rock
Long before he became a firefighter, DiRienzo said he remembers visiting the fire stations when his two older brothers joined the department and watching Lombard crews in action helping his relatives.
"I remember as a teenager coming around the stations with family to see them or visit them or to see what they were up to as far as training," he said. "My brother Ron and brother Mike kind of got me started."
DiRienzo's background brings consistency, he said, to a department that has been without a permanent chief since Jan. 20. His first day was Sept. 7 and he said his last should be a long way off.
"Being here as long as I have shows stability," the 49-year-old DiRienzo said. "I had a part-time job in town for 30 years, so I don't fly around very much. I plan on sticking around."
He's sticking around to lead a department with a new corps of officers, a department that responds to more than 4,500 ambulance calls a year, a department that protects many members of his family. And he's being paid $125,000 a year to do it.
His own immediate family, including his wife of 25 years, Beth, and four kids, ranging in age from 23 to 13, lives in Wheaton. He keeps them in mind as he encourages Lombard firefighters and paramedics to treat every patient like a relative.
"I have a lot of family in town and I keep telling the guys 'treat someone just like your family would like to be treated if you weren't around.'" DiRienzo said. "I think we do that very well. I think that's been our culture here for a long time."
DiRienzo isn't looking to change the department's culture — just to increase its capacity for responding to medical calls. When Lombard paramedics and firefighters responded in 2011 to almost 4,600 ambulance calls, they did so running two ambulances at a time. The department already has a third ambulance vehicle, but needs the authority to schedule enough personnel to operate it.
"Some days we do have enough to run three," he said. But other days, "our minimum staffing does not allow for that. I would like to bring our minimum staffing up, by ordinance, to allow for three ambulances a day."
The department already is full of trained paramedics, as all employees must either be certified paramedics or gain the certification within two years of being hired.
Newly promoted Battalion Chief Martin Coomes will lead training under DiRienzo. Arthur Peters and Raymond Kickert also are stepping up as battalion chiefs, while Anthony Sally, Mark Sepe and Michael Ringa recently were promoted to lieutenant.
When DiRienzo was hired in October 1982, the department ran its own training academy and used paid-on-call firefighters, who all had to be Lombard residents.
"It was more small town then," he said. "I was able to be a paid-on-call, serve the town and still go to school and receive all the training of the fire service, so it was kind of exciting."
DiRienzo got a degree in communications from the University of Illinois at Chicago, but found he preferred the fire service. When an opportunity arose to become a full-time fire department employee, DiRienzo went for it, and so began his rise through the ranks.
He assisted with the department's public education programs and the fire investigation unit, and for the past three years he served as emergency medical services coordinator.
In that role, he oversaw Lombard's participation in Start the Heart, a DuPage County Health Department program that began in the Lilac Village and now is spreading to other communities in the county. The program aims to get more people trained in the use of automatic external defibrillators, which can restart a person's heart after cardiac arrest.
DiRienzo didn't try for the chief job in the first round of applications after former chief Mike Torrence retired Jan. 20. He was a lieutenant at the time and instead had his eye on a promotion to battalion chief, which he received in June. But when the village didn't hire a chief from an initial pool of 53 candidates and interim chief Jeff Holst suddenly retired July 31, DiRienzo decided to apply.
"I wanted someone from our department to get the job," he said. "I wanted someone with a little history to be here."
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