Elgin Fire Department sees wave of retirements, hiring

The Elgin Fire Department is undergoing major changes as people who were part of a hiring wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s have retired, and officials have ramped up efforts to increase diversity among new hires.

The latest change will affect one of two assistant fire chief positions. Assistant Fire Chief Bryan McMahan will retire Friday and Battalion Chief Richard Carter, a 28-year veteran, will be promoted to the post next week. That will trigger three additional promotions within the ranks, Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said.

Fifteen people retired in just under three years, Schmidt said. One person with 40 years of experience and another with 30 years of experience retired this year, and another one with more than 40 years is retiring in August, he said.

"We're in the midst of losing about 500 years of institutional knowledge, so we've once again become a young organization at all of our officer ranks," Schmidt said.

Like most suburban fire departments, Elgin's is predominantly white and male. In an effort to increase the pool of candidates, the 133-firefighter department last summer dropped a requirement, first established in 2000, that firefighter candidates have 60 college credit hours.

Six firefighters were hired in January, including one woman and one who is Hispanic, Schmidt said. The top candidate on the eligibility hiring list was a woman who ended up taking a job elsewhere, he said.

Schmidt said efforts to increase diversity within the Fire Explorer program have been successful, and the hope is that the program's youths will apply to work within the department when they turn 21.

"I believe with the changes we've made, we're trying in the right direction and we will continue to pursue diversity initiatives," he said.

The recent wave of retirements alone is not expected to increase the city's pension contribution amounts or decrease pension funding levels, Assistant City Manager Laura Valdez said. "We anticipate all retirements and those benefits are stacked into the calculation," she said.

Carter, the future assistant chief for administration, is a product of the department's succession planning, which encourages firefighters to rise through the ranks, Schmidt said. Carter was a paramedic and on the technical rescue team and has been on the training division for 15 years. He also was director of the former Elgin Regional Fire Academy.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Carter said. "It's kind of outside anything I've done before. I've always been a guy working on the operations part of the job, on the street. I've been on shift for 28 years now, and now I'm going to days."

Still, "I will do anything Chief Schmidt wants me to do. I'm here for the city and I'm here for the fire department," he said.

Schmidt praised McMahan for his dedication to the community "and an unwavering commitment to improving the department."

A reception honoring McMahan will be held 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at Fire Station 1, 550 Summit Street in Elgin. A retirement flag ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. outside.

The promotion ceremony for Carter and the others is at 3 p.m. April 10 in the Heritage Ballroom of the Ed Schock Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way, Elgin.

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