After 43 years, no cause for alarm: Palos district fire chief retires
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2013 9:44PM
Updated: July 16, 2013 6:14AM
His office walls are bare, and filled boxes are stacked in the corner.
Palos Fire Protection District Chief Steve Carr is physically ready to move out of the office he has occupied since 1991, and leave the department he has been part of since 1970.
In addition to the personal items he has packed, Carr will take with him the long friendships he has enjoyed and all the knowledge and skills he has acquired over the years.
“It will be a big adjustment,” Carr said this week as he prepared for Friday, which is to be his last day on the job.
He knows he will miss the constant activity of the fire station, but looks forward to some down time with his wife and two children before exploring other opportunities.
Maybe when the alarms sound, he will have to fight the urge to hop on his bike and dash off to the fire station, as he did when he was 15. He still will live within minutes of the station that has been part of his life for 43 years.
Firefighting has advanced considerably since his days as a teenage cadet.
“Friends of mine were here (at the fire station) and they said it was a cool place to be. This is where the action was,” Carr said of his initial attraction. “There was not a lot available for kids to do in Palos Park. If you weren’t involved in sports, you had a lot of time on your hands.”
In 1980 he was offered a job running the paramedic department at the Burbank Fire Department, while still a member of the Palos department.
“I learned so much from so many people,” Carr said.
Emergency medicine was the initial draw, but he also learned from firefighters in his days as a cadet.
When the Palos Fire Protection District was hiring in 1983, he landed a full-time job. That same year, paramedic training was required of all firefighters.
In 1991, he learned he was the new chief, as he returned home from his honeymoon. He called to check with his chief from the airport, who told him, “I quit. You’re the chief.”
Carr said he was not prepared for that “but felt I could make a difference.” His wife, he said, has been very understanding.
Working in the fire service has been a “constant evolution,” Carr said.
In the old days, he said, “They would hand you a helmet and show you how to do it.”
Now, firefighters not only must know the science of fire suppression, but fire prevention. They must understand the engineering behind all the apparatus they use, and the construction of most buildings in their community. They know not only how to extinguish a car fire, but how to extricate victims from vehicles. They must learn water rescue and how to handle hazardous materials spills and other specialized skills that communities have come to demand of first responders.
He leaves behind a 10-year plan and urges residents to “make sure the district is doing what it promised with the money and watch how good it can become.”
As he thought about exiting the chief’s office, Carr looked forward to enjoying his family and his community without worrying about “what’s next.”
“I would like to be involved in the district somehow,” he said. “It’s nice to live in the community and be involved.”