Chief retiring after 37 years at Countryside Fire Protection District

A shift change is coming for Jeff Steingart, chief of the Countryside Fire Protection District, who recognized his life's work as a boy and stayed with it - mostly at the same place - until retiring.

"I have an entire slideshow in my head of the tens of thousands of incidents we've been on that impacts us one way or another," said Steingart, 55, who started with Countryside as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1982 and was hired as a full-time firemedic in January 1986.

He steadily advanced, serving as a lieutenant and fire prevention bureau director, captain and shift commander, and assistant and deputy chief before being named to the top spot in 2006.

After 37 years at Countryside, Steingart is acting on an inkling that began percolating several months ago and will leave the responsibilities of a 24/7 job. There are grandkids to see grow and the activities of normal daily life to enjoy.

"It's timing and opportunity and all the factors," he said. "Family is a big one. We know too well how precious life is and things can change in a moment."

Last week was Steingart's last in the office. A Change in Command ceremony with a traditional fire department walk out is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at department headquarters, 600 N. Deerpath Drive, Vernon Hills. Deputy Chief Chuck Smith will be sworn in as the new chief.

"Jeff has been an impactful chief and his leadership has left a mark," Libertyville Fire Chief Rich Carani said.

Steingart grew up in Hawthorn Woods and became a Mundelein Fire Department Explorer at 13. After graduating from Stevenson High School in 1981, he took an EMT class, worked for a private ambulance company and then the Highwood Fire Department before joining Countryside full time.

Countryside covers 24 square miles, including portions of Vernon Hills, Hawthorn Woods, Long Grove, Kildeer, Indian Creek and unincorporated Lake County. Activity has increased significantly since 1982 when Countryside personnel responded to 1,391 calls. Last year, the total was 4,918.

Besides emergency services, Steingart says the department focuses on fire safety and education and customer service. All personnel carry a gold coin with the words: Respond. Solve Problems. Be Nice.

"It's become part of our culture," he said. "Keeping people safe so they don't need our services is the goal," he added.

Steingart's resume includes dozens of awards, recognitions and certifications and affiliations. He been a member of the MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Division 4 all-hazards incident management team since 2014 and president since 2016.

Steingart said he is proud of the improvement of Countryside's ISO rating, which affects homeowner insurance rates, from Class 5 to just shy of Class 1, and the department's recent reaccreditation by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International for a fifth consecutive year.

A 30-year resident of Vernon Hills, Steingart plans to stay put and will remain involved in the fire service. He's been hired as director of strategic planning and administration for the Wauconda Fire Protection District, a part-time civilian position.

One of the most memorable situations during his long career was a call for a possible house fire in Long Grove on a Friday night in April 2014. Steingart was at home about three miles away at the time.

"I got in my truck and heard and felt the explosion as I left my driveway," he said, comparing the devastation to that of a tornado. Remarkably, no serious injuries were reported. "It was amazing," he said.

Countryside Fire Protection District Chief Jeff Steingart is retiring. Daily Herald file, 2009
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