With a degree in psychology and in the middle of a one-year teaching position at Burlington Central High School, Scott Franzgrote decided on a whim to test at local fire departments.
Rolling Meadows hired him as a firefighter/EMT in 1990, when he says he realized fire service was his true calling.
Since then, Franzgrote has worked for only one department, rising through the ranks to become a lieutenant, battalion chief, deputy chief and, in 2012, chief.
On Tuesday, he announced plans to retire effective Sept. 29, when he'll hand over the reins to Terry Valentino, who is now deputy chief.
Franzgrote, 53, said he came to his decision within the last year, realizing it was time to step aside and give others in the fire department opportunities to take on leadership roles.
He says he's used his background in psychology to find common ground on complex issues and develop a department with a positive energy.
"I learned a lot in psychology about human behavior and motivation," he said. "I think I've always tried to connect with people than conquer people."
He cited accomplishments including the upgrade of fire engines from basic to advanced life support, personnel development that's led to more command staff members' attaining advanced degrees, and a consolidation effort for some services with the Palatine and Palatine Rural fire departments. Lauded by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti last month, the "Rural Palatine Meadows" initiative has led to shared equipment, standardized training and streamlined responses to incidents.
One thing that eluded Franzgrote was bringing to fruition a controversial plan to relocate and build two new fire stations. Talks of moving and/or constructing new stations have been ongoing since at least 2004 -- two fire chiefs ago -- but plans have changed, as has the direction of the city council.
"I would've liked to have seen it through to completion because I think there's a plan in place that has momentum more so than I've seen in the past," he said. "But I'm confident people taking leadership roles here in the future are prepared and ready to see that through."
In June, the council took an informal 4-2 straw vote to stay the course on current plans, which would replace Fire Station 15 at 3111 Meadow Drive with a new station to the south and replace Fire Station 16 at 2455 S. Plum Grove Road with a new station to the east.
Franzgrote said negotiations are still underway to make land purchases for the new stations -- a process that started in January. He said it could be 2½ more years until the new stations are up and running.
Franzgrote said he plans to spend more time with his family, do volunteer work, and perhaps work part-time, which could include teaching fire science at a community college.
He was paid a salary of $149,003 in 2016, with a total compensation package of $171,498 including insurance benefits, according to documents on the city website.
Valentino, the new chief, has more than 40 years of firefighting experience, including 33 years at the Arlington Heights Fire Department. He was hired as deputy chief in Rolling Meadows in 2014.