Elgin says goodbye to retired fire chief, names interim department leader

When now-former Elgin Fire Chief Dave Schmidt started his career in Elgin in 1989, he was "happy like a kid in a candy store" whose only goal was to make a difference.

Thirty years later, during his retirement ceremony Friday afternoon, Schmidt said he was honored to have worked for what he called "the best fire department in the country."

"I've never worked for or with a more dedicated group of men and women," he said, later adding, "We've had bad times. We've had good times. But at all times, we've been professional. I can't stress that enough."

Family members, residents and colleagues showed up to say goodbye to Schmidt during the open house and retirement flag ceremony held at Fire Station 1 on Summit Street.

South Elgin Fire Chief Steve Wascher said he's known Schmidt, a resident of South Elgin, for about 20 years. The two earned their bachelor's degrees in fire science management in 2005 at Southern Illinois University.

"I'm going to miss him a lot. He's a friend," Wascher said. "We have always had a good relationship between the two departments. We share equipment and the same radio frequency, and Dave was instrumental in helping us get the StarCom radio system (also used by Elgin)."

Resident Greg Gudeman came with his wife, Brenda, and their grandchildren, ages 5 and 8, who were visiting from Ohio and relished the chance to check out a fire station. Gudeman said he knows Schmidt from Bible study group at Christ Community Church.

"It's bittersweet. He's a wonderful guy," Gudeman said. "He and his family are good people."

Several of Schmidt's relatives attended the event, including his father, William Schmidt, a retired fire chief from Walker, Michigan; his mother, Fran Michels, of South Elgin; his brother Bill Schmidt, a fire battalion chief in Streamwood; and his sister Rachel Abbott of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. His wife, Chris, and daughter Kayla also were there.

Schmidt starts Monday as fire chief in Carrboro, North Carolina, which will allow his family to be closer to his son Matthew, who lives in Tennessee. "That's a five-hour drive, compared to 10½ from here," he said. "I also hear the weather is good."

After the ceremony, City Manager Rick Kozal announced that Assistant Assistant Fire Chief Robert Cagann will serve as interim fire chief, effective immediately.

"I am wholly confident that the exemplary service for which the Elgin Fire Department is recognized will continue unabated under Interim Chief Cagann's leadership until a new fire chief is appointed," Kozal said.

Mayor David Kaptain said he always endorses promotions from within. He and council members John Steffen and Tish Powell also attended Schmidt's retirement ceremony, which was to be followed by a get-together at Billy Bricks Wood Fired Pizza in Elgin.

  The father of Elgin Fire Chief Dave Schmidt, Bill Schmidt, who is a retired fire chief from Walker, Michigan, was among those who attended Friday's retirement ceremony and open house at Station 1. John Starks/
  Robb Cagann, assistant fire chief of operations in Elgin, was named interim fire chief after Dave Schmidt's retirement Friday. Cagann is pictured here last year. Brian Hill/
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