Palatine fire district chief retires after 39 years

After a 39-year career in firefighting, retiring Palatine Rural Fire Protection District Fire Chief Rich May said an unforgettable blaze was the one that destroyed Arlington Park in 1985.

At the time, May was a part-time firefighter with the Long Grove Fire Protection District, one of the initial mutual aid companies that responded to the raging fire sparked by an electrical system.

"Every incident is unique in its own and yes, I have been to a few very large scale fires," he said. "That was the largest one I ever responded to. It burned the thing to the ground."

The 61-year-old May retires today from the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District, where he served 26 years after being hired as a firefighter/paramedic in 1995 and being named chief in 2016. His firefighting career started in 1982 in Long Grove, where he worked part-time for 20 years.

The Palatine Rural Fire Protection District includes about 15 square miles and about 15,000 residents in Inverness and unincorporated areas in Palatine Township and Schaumburg Township.

May, who lives in Cary, was among the first group of full-time firefighters hired by the district. Until 1995, the district owned its fire station and equipment, but contracted with the village of Palatine's fire department for staffing.

Also among the first hires in 1995 was Deputy Chief Scott Mohr, who is taking over as interim fire chief, May said.

Palatine Fire Department Chief Patrick Gratzianna said May always demonstrated professionalism and integrity. May raised the level of fire and EMS services in the area as he fostered collaborative relationships between the Palatine and Rolling Meadows fire departments, Gratzianna said.

"Having personally worked with Chief May during our careers, I have always been impressed by his work ethic and his dedication to the members of his department," he said.

May said he always enjoyed the daily challenges of his job. "Working in a team environment has always been something I've enjoyed," he said.

The firefighting profession has become much more technical over the years, May said.

For example, in the 1980s, firefighters used radios with four channels. Now, they have 100 or more channels and vehicles with computers, he said. Also, firefighters now can avail themselves of smartphone apps for things like identification of hazardous materials and researching voltage of electric vehicle batteries, he said.

May said he looks forward to spending more time with family, including his wife, daughter and three grandchildren.

"I probably will see if I can find something to occupy my time," he said. "It's my intention to relax and enjoy life a little bit and enjoy the family, and see where it leads me."

Rich May, retiring fire chief for the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District Fire Chief, remembers well the Arlington Park fire that raged out of control on July 31, 1985. He was a Long Grove firefighter at the time. Daily Herald file photo
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