38-year veteran takes helm of S. Elgin fire district
William B. Sohn has served as fire chief for the South Elgin & Countryside Fire Protection District for just two weeks, but he knows the job well, having spent 38 years with the district.
One of his priorities is to come up with a plan to remodel Station 1, by village hall on State Street, or build a new station elsewhere along Route 31.
"It's about what's going to be the best fit for the money and the long-term use," said Sohn, 59.
Station 1 doesn't have enough office space and is in need of major repairs such as new driveways in the back, he said.
The district covers a 22 -square-mile area, and employs 30 full-time firefighters -- including two new hires in the works -- plus 20 paid-on-call staff and three civilians, Sohn said. Its yearly budget is about $6 million.
Sohn grew up in Elgin and started his career with the district as a paid on-call firefighter in 1976. He became a full-time firefighter in 1979 and moved up the ranks until he was named assistant fire chief in 2002.
South Elgin doesn't have a lot of fires, but a memorable one took place in the late 1970s at an old meatpacking factory on North State Street, which firefighters batted for almost 24 hours, Sohn said.
He and his wife Kathy have two children and a grandchild.
Former fire chief Joe Cluchey, 51, retired Feb. 28 after 33 years of service. He now works part-time as state operations section chief for Mutual Aid Box Alarm System in Wheeling.
Cluchey said he believes Sohn will leave the district better than he found it. "(Sohn) is by far the most dedicated employee I've ever seen," he said.
Cluchey said he was planning to retire in December to have more freedom and flexibility in his personal life. Serious health problems -- from which he has now recovered -- prompted him to do it sooner, he said.
He had four operations starting in September, two to replace a spinal disc damaged by a firefighting injury in the late ' 90s, and two after he went into nearly fatal septic shock, he said.
"Being ill, off work for months last year, it proved to me that I can survive (without the fire district)," Cluchey said.
"I wanted to stay relevant, but I didn't necessarily want the everyday commitment anymore."