Dave Schmidt selected as new Elgin fire chief
The city of Elgin is promoting from within, with assistant fire chief David Schmidt taking the top post effective Nov. 18.
Schmidt served as second-in-command for five years and was appointed interim chief in August, after former Fire Chief John Fahy announced he would retire Oct. 10. Schmidt is a 27-year veteran of the Elgin Fire Department.
City Manager Rick Kozal did not return a request for comment Tuesday. He said in a news release that Schmidt "exemplifies the long-tenured 'working managers' with proven performance and leadership that have become a hallmark of the city's operations." He also credited Schmidt with being instrumental in helping the fire department contain costs and become more efficient.
"Dave, along with his colleagues, have maintained high service levels for Elgin residents despite staff reductions and continuing fiscal constraints. I fully expect Dave will continue running into burning buildings once he has been sworn in as chief."
Schmidt, who turned 50 Tuesday, said he was honored to be selected. The fire department has another assistant chief, Bryan McMahan, who's served in the position for less than a year.
Schmidt joined the Elgin Fire Department in 1989 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2000, captain in 2005, and assistant chief of operations in 2011. He currently oversees the budget, personnel practices, organizational and career development, operational training, and technology advancements.
Among his main goals is to be proactive and keep up with changes in the fire service, he said.
"A great example is community paramedicine," he said, pointing to new partnerships between hospitals and fire departments, such as in the Rockford area. "We know the EMS delivery model will change. It has to."
Another goal is to increase diversity within the fire department, Schmidt said. That could include reaching out to high school students to introduce them early on to the fire service, and expanding the two-year-old Fire Explorers program by partnering with the Boy Scouts and collaborating with the Police Explorer program to allow participants to experience programs, he said.
Schmidt has a bachelor's degree in fire science from Southern Illinois University and is completing an associate degree in geographical information systems. He has done extensive GIS-related work for the fire department and has collaborated with police in developing an active shooter response plan.
Mayor David Kaptain praised Schmidt's service to the city. "He's been very involved with the community and the police department, and I think he is very qualified to do the job."
Although the fire department lacks diversity, Kaptain said, he trusts the city manager's choice to not publicize the position to seek outside applicants. The city employs a diversity consultant and has been working on crafting a diversity plan.
"We don't need some lieutenant from Chicago coming for a few years (as a new chief) and then leaving," he said. Instead, the department needs to build a diverse young workforce that can then move up through the ranks, he said.
Councilman John Prigge said he, too, trusts Kozal's judgment.
"I see Elgin as a factory for talent that wants to go into upper level management in core services," he said. "If we don't have anybody that's ready for these positions in our city, then we should look outside. But we are investing a lot of our time and experience into those who have identified themselves as wanting to rise in management."
Councilwoman Tish Powell, who in August said she wished the city would widen its pool of applicants for the fire chief post, didn't return a request for comment Tuesday.