New Prospect Heights firefighter likes being a team player

  • Firefighter Vanessa Kieres performs a hose drill.

    Firefighter Vanessa Kieres performs a hose drill. Courtesy of PHFD

Posted5/17/2022 10:11 AM

There's a new firefighter with the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District, and it's a first. Vanessa Kieres was hired in February as the district's first full-time female firefighter.

While the district has had other women serve in part-time roles, Kieres is the first to be hired to a full-time position.


Since Kieres arrived, she has hit the ground running. Last year, the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District responded to 2,415 calls for help -- more than any year in its history. Consequently, since November, the district has hired four new full-time firefighter/paramedics.

"The hiring process is competitive," says Fire Chief Drew Smith. "During her interviews, Vanessa was able to communicate her value and commitment to serve, things we value deeply."

Kieres also stood out because of her physical fitness and background as a team player and athlete. She grew up playing basketball in Edison Park before attending Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette.

As a Panther, Kieres was all-conference and an honorable mention all-state selection, setting the school record for points scored with 34 in a game. She would go on to play basketball for four years at William Penn University in Oscaloosa, Iowa, majoring in exercise science.

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"I love helping people, and I was always interested in being a part of the community," Kieres says. "I played basketball all my life, and I enjoyed being a part of a team. As a firefighter/paramedic, you have the ability to work as a team, maintain physical fitness and expand your knowledge. No day is the same, and you have the opportunity to learn new things each day."

Smith adds that with the hiring of Kieres, the district is carrying out its commitment to be inclusive.

"We have deepened our commitment to providing opportunities for everyone," Smith says, "especially those in underrepresented groups."

Kieres graduated from the Fire Academy, sponsored by the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Academy, in March, 2020, where she passed the basic operations firefighter certification. She spent her first two years as a firefighter/paramedic in LaGrange before coming to Prospect Heights.

"I really like the tightknit team aspect of the Prospect Heights department, where everybody takes care of one another, whether that's a patient, resident or co-worker," she says. "Everybody shares a common goal to get the job done."


Kieres joins a department that serves about 16,700 residents within the city of Prospect Heights and adjacent unincorporated areas of Cook County.

Formed in 1944 -- predating the city's incorporation in 1976 -- the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District was originally a volunteer fire department until it began to use part-time employees in the late 1980s.

The paid workforce has expanded over the past 30 years to include full-time firefighter/paramedics, starting in 2005. The current force contains 17 full-time members and 13 part-time members.

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