Lombard fire chief retiring for post in Yorkville

Lombard Fire Chief Mike Torrence is set to retire Jan. 20, heading off to greener pastures — or at least a place where there still are pastures.

Torrence is leaving his Lombard post to take a job with a private company that will send him to serve as fire marshal for the Bristol Kendall Fire Department in Yorkville, a place where farm fields are far more common than they are in the Lilac Village.

Torrence said the time is right to move to a job where he can teach young firefighters and develop a relatively new fire prevention and education unit, although he only served as Lombard’s chief for a year and three months.

“It gives me a great opportunity to work with a lot of young guys that are learning the fire service,” Torrence said. “I’ve got a lot of experience over the years and I can help support them and teach them what I know.”

Torrence has spent his entire 33-year fire service career with the Lombard Fire Department, starting in 1978 and serving as battalion chief, fire marshal and commander of the fire investigation unit, among other roles.

He also grew up in Lombard and said he doesn’t plan to move away from the village when he switches jobs. Still, he’s looking forward to learning a new area and meeting new people.

“As much as I’m going to gain out there, that’s what I’m going to miss here,” Torrence said. “Everyone from the newest guy on the job to the village president — I’ll miss all of them because they’ve all treated me with total respect.”

With his two daughters out of college and his 33 years of service in Lombard — well past the 30 years it takes to earn the maximum pension benefit — Torrence said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a new job, although the decision to leave was difficult.

Torrence won’t be eligible for a pension at his new post because he’ll be paid through a private company, Public Safety Services, Inc., of Rosemont.

Michael Hitzemann, chief of the Bristol Kendall Fire Department, said he did not know Torrence’s exact pay, but he’s leaving Lombard with a $128,000 salary as chief, Village Manager David Hulseberg said.

Hitzemann said Torrence’s experience made him the best choice to lead the department’s relatively new fire prevention and education efforts from the fire marshal position.

“We needed somebody who has done this before to come in here and help get our program running the way it should be,” Hitzemann said. “He has a tremendous amount of education and experience to bring to our department.”

When Torrence announced his retirement from the top post in the Lombard Fire Department, Assistant Chief Jerry Howell was named acting chief. Howell told Hulseberg he does not intend to apply for the chief position, so giving him temporary leadership duties does not create an advantage over other possible internal candidates for chief.

When Lombard was searching for a new chief after the retirement of George “Ed” Seagraves in July 2010, the village paid WRB LLC of Arlington Heights $64,680 to provide interim fire chief services, prepare a report on the department’s strengths and weaknesses, and assist with the search for a permanent chief.

Such an expense won’t be necessary this time around, as the village plans on running its search for the next chief in-house, Hulseberg said.

Trustee Zachary Wilson said he is concerned about the soft costs of village employees taking time to search for and interview fire chief candidates. He suggested using the same list of candidates who applied for the job in 2010.

But Hulseberg said using the same list is not practical, as some applicants have taken other jobs.

Resumes from those seeking to be Lombard’s next fire chief are due Jan. 15. Then the village will begin interviewing and assessing candidates with hopes of choosing a chief by March 31.

Mike Torrence served 33 years with the Lombard Fire Department, including a year and three months as chief. Torrence retires Jan. 20. Courtesy of the village of Lombard

Lombard’s fire chief cut overtime, vehicle costs

By the time Mike Torrence retires Jan. 20, he will have served as Lombard’s fire chief for a year and three months — a short time compared to his 33 years with the department.

When he took the role, he was given a report from a consultant with suggestions to improve the fire department’s operations.

Torrence offered his take on changes he made as chief, using the report as a guide.

Ÿ Reduced overtime payments by $239,980.

The department cut overtime costs by staffing its third ambulance with on-duty personnel instead of off-duty workers receiving overtime and eliminating overtime for firefighters who work parades and events.

“We reduced overtime by a huge amount within the department by making sure that we do things a little differently than we used to in the past,” Torrence said.

Ÿ Decreased vehicle costs for future savings of $602,000.

Torrence said he implemented an anti-idling policy to cut fuel costs. The department also shrunk its fleet by eliminating one engine, one squad car, one public education van and display trailer, one fire investigation unit trailer, the hazardous materials trailer and the backup command vehicle. A fire prevention vehicle was reassigned to the community development department.

Ÿ Performed station maintenance in-house.

Building upkeep such as painting at Lombard’s two fire stations now is done by fire personnel instead of contractors, Torrence said.

“We try to get everyone more involved, and they take more pride in their department by being more involved,” he said. “That way it just saves money for the taxpayers.”

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