New Wheaton fire chief discusses local department, life of a firefighter
WHEATON – City manager Donald Rose announced Friday, May 17 that current Deputy Fire Chief Bill
Schultz would take over duties as Wheaton’s new fire chief.
Schultz, a member of the Wheaton Fire Department since 2003 and a firefighting veteran of almost 25 years, is replacing current Chief Greg Berk, who will be retiring on May 31. Schultz recently spoke to The Wheaton Leader about his new job.
Obviously the promotion to chief of the department is a big career step. How does it feel to be the new head of the Wheaton Fire Department?
It’s actually very humbling. I’ve been working my whole career to reach this point and it is definitely a very humbling place to be. I’ve been very lucky to have great people around me in and outside of the department along the way, and I am excited for the opportunity. Excited to serve the citizens more.
What do you think you bring to the position?
I have been around the department for a long time and been a firefighter for a long time, so I think I bring a lot of experience. I think I have a good idea of what the capabilities of the department are and what the needs of the community [are], and that sense of awareness will help out in the transition. I think we can be a progressive organization, and I think that time frame and that tenure of years give me that opportunity. At least I don’t have to walk in the door and figure out where the bathroom is.
What are some of the strengths of the Wheaton Fire Department?
First and foremost is the people. The personnel here, they are hardworking and dedicated people. We have tremendous talent, and just like any activity in the public or private sector we’ve had a lot of activity in retirement, so we have a lot of fresh young talent in the department. There’s a lot of opportunity, and I think the future is bright.
On the flip side, what are some weaknesses or places you’d like to improve?
Well I think that strength is a two-edged sword. With the retirements and newer people coming in, it presents the challenge of many years of experience lost. We lost a lot of people and in the short-term that will be something we’ll need to work through.
Another thing we’ll have to watch is the trends of both the fire service side and the emergency medical services. There’s a lot of change there and trying to keep pace with the changes will be a challenge.
To take a look at you personally, why did you decide to become a fireman?
Well I wasn’t looking to become a firefighter, I was looking to go to school to become a pilot.
My dad was a policeman for a long time and I was looking around for some part-time stuff, and he said, “You know what? The fire department is looking for some people, why don’t you look and see what they have to offer.”
I took a test and went through a process, and when I walked through the door the first day for our first training day, it just hit me at that point – the smell of the station, the camaraderie, just being in a place where you’re accepted but at the same time getting razed and that whole sense of belonging caught my attention.
And as I got out and started being able to serve the citizens and getting to feel what that was like I just kept pushing myself. I had some really good people to mentor me and tell me to go to school and get as many certifications as I could – and I just fell in love with it.