Oak Forest fire employee honored
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org February 27, 2013 1:32PM
Lisa Alfaro won the Administrative Professional of the Year award from Illinois Fire Chiefs Association. She is pictured at her desk in Oak Forest Fire Department Station 1 in Oak Forest, Illinois. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:02AM
Lisa Alfaro doesn’t think what she does is special. She says she’s just doing her job.
A statewide organization politely disagrees.
Alfaro, 52, was named the 2012 administrative professional of the year by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association during a recent ceremony in Lemont. The award sits on her desk in the firehouse on 155th Street near Central Avenue.
“I’m a little surprised. It’s a nice honor. Great recognition. It’s bittersweet because there are so many people who do so many great things,” she said. “How could I be counted as more than anybody else? I don’t feel I’m more worthy than anyone else.
“I just like to help, to go the extra mile and to make everyone feel special. Our guys are with people at the worst times of their lives,” she said.
Alfaro, who has lived in Oak Forest for 25 years, worked at a downtown law firm before leaving to help raise the two children she has with husband Scott. The kids are now college graduates, and she’s been working for the fire department for 12 years as the executive assistant to the chief.
One area in which she shines is writing grant applications.
“I’ve been successful in bringing in quite a bit in federal grants, and that’s rewarding. At first, they didn’t believe in it, but I got $196,000 on my first grant, on my third try,” she said. “I’ve brought in a little more than $500,000 since I started.”
Firefighting gear, new generators for both firehouses and thermal-imaging cameras have been bought with the grants, she said.
“When I put in the actual quotes from the guys, those are the ones that have been successful,” she said of the grant requests.
Alfaro likes her desk, located close to the firehouse’s front door, because it’s next to large windows that offer a great view of fire vehicles ready to roll out on various calls.
Until three years ago, dispatching was among her duties. That can be exciting, she said, and also very demanding on one’s time.
One of the challenges is that if firefighters need information on an insurance issue, for example, she has to get the answer to them by that day “because they are here one day, and off three.”
Another challenge is trying to not take work home with her.
“It’s a life choice really, being in emergency services. And it’s difficult on a family at every level because you get into volunteering,” she said. “Next thing you know, I have something going on seven nights in a row. It’s hard. Finding your balance is the challenge.”
The best part of her job “is being able to use my skills to make a difference in our community,” she said.
Most residents, she said, “never think about what happens when a building burns” until it’s their home or a neighbor’s.
While Alfaro may not think she’s deserving of a state award, firefighter/paramedic Joe Schuringa does.
“She’s just an amazing person. She’ll do anything for anybody. There’s part-time girls who work here occasionally, but for the most part, Lisa runs everything,” Schuringa said. “We actually call her ‘Chief’ for the amount she does and the knowledge she has. I can’t see anyone else do her job the way she does it.”
The fire department’s real chief, Terry Lipinski, said Alfaro puts residents first.
“She definitely is here for the fire service and for the residents. She goes about her business making Oak Forest very user-friendly,” he said, noting that Alfaro sometimes chips in with other city departments if they are overwhelmed with work.