Hanover Park fire chief retiring after 19 years with department
Hanover Park Fire Chief Craig Haigh said he couldn't remember a time in his life when didn't want to be a firefighter.
As a small child he was "mesmerized" by the idea.
"Even then (I remember) thinking 'I want to be part of this,'" Haigh said.
After 19 years with the department, and more than 37 in fire protection, Haigh will retire in next month.
Haigh began as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown in downstate Hampton at the age of 16 in 1983. He soon became a full-time firefighter in Rock Island at 19, while continuing the volunteer post.
In 1991, he was named fire chief of the Hampton volunteer corps then moved in 1995 to North Carolina for another chief's post.
He said he was hired specifically to create a "combination" fire department of volunteers and full-time staff from scratch.
Haigh spent seven years there, before moving back to Illinois to be closer to his parents.
In 2002, Haigh began at the Hanover Park department just after the village merged fire services with a neighboring fire protection district that was struggling with tax revenue.
At the time, Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig was president of that fire district and was a part of the hiring process.
"His background and his skills were exceptional," Craig said. "He has exceeded all our expectations."
Following the merger, Haigh said the new department was able to hire staff, construct fire stations and implement training scenarios, among other initiatives.
"There's been huge, sweeping change," Haigh said. "Our organization looks nothing like it did when I showed up 19 years ago."
Haigh is credited with professionalizing the fire department, village officials said. Over the years, he created the department's inspection services division, the fire corps rehab response team and the chaplain program.
"I certainly can't take all the credit," Haigh said. "I set the vision, but I had some great folks who came along and made sure we were moving toward the vision."
He said it's the responsibility of chief that is most draining, but also the most rewarding aspect of the role.
"It's been a wonderful career," Haigh said, "I feel incredibly blessed."
Over the years, Haigh said watching his department's employees achieve their goals of gaining a new certification, earning a college degree or receiving a promotion have been highlights of his career. He said his staff was "the best in the business."
The mayor said that starts at the top.
"We have a superb fire chief," Craig said.
While it's difficult for him to leave, Haigh said he's committed to building a succession of leadership in-house. He said his successor, assistant chief Eric Fors, will be the village's next fire chief.
Fors takes over July 2.
"I look forward to seeing the great things the team is going to do in the years to come," Haigh said.