Chief earns special designation
River Forest Fire Chief Jim Eggert reads to a group of children. Eggert recently received the professional designation of Chief Fire Officer by the Commission on Professional Credentialing. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:13AM
RIVER FOREST — For Fire Chief Jim Eggert, being a part of the community is the only way to do his job.
“I know the people in town because I see them on a regular basis. I know the people at the Animal Hospital. I know the people who work at Whole Foods and at Walgreens,” Eggert said. “I know the people who live up by the parks. I’ve gotten to know them.
“And when they see me, they say, ‘Hi, Jim’ or ‘Hi, Chief.’ When they see me at a coffee, they can be at ease and talk to me, and they know they are going to get an honest answer when they have a question.”
Eggert, a Downers Grove resident, doesn’t just get out into the community. He is active in it, holding memberships in the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce and the Oak Park-River Forest Kiwanis, as well as the Willowbrook-Burr Ridge Kiwanis and the Darien Rotary.
His community involvement is just one of the reasons Eggert received the professional designation of Chief Fire Officer by the Commission on Professional Credentialing. Eggert is one of 47 chiefs statewide and 864 worldwide to earn the designation.
Along with community involvement, the commission examines a candidate’s experience, education, professional development, professional contributions, association membership and technical competencies.
“The accreditation is important,” Eggert said. “It proves you have good leadership. We have a great fire department here that works well together, that trains aggressively and operates efficiently.”
The son of a firefighter, Eggert, born and raised in Hinsdale, knew at a young age that firefighting was for him, sneaking into the back seat of the family car to go on calls with his dad.
It was at the scene of a house fire next to Zion Lutheran Church in Hinsdale that Eggert, then 16 or 17, helped change out firefighters’ air tanks. His work impressed the fire chief, who asked if Eggert was interested in the department’s cadet program. Eggert viewed it as his way to full-time fire employment and jumped at the chance.
Three lieutenants in the department later told the eager Eggert, “Jim, the job will always be here. Go and get your education.”
Eggert earned a degree in forestry from the University of Wisconsin, where he played hockey.
“I thought I was a pretty good defenseman until I got to Wisconsin and saw how mediocre I was,” Eggert joked.
He went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in fire service administration from Southern Illinois University and a master of science degree in public safety administration from Lewis University.
On a wall behind his desk are large patches of the only three departments – Hinsdale, Tri-State in the Willowbrook-Burr Ridge-Darien area, and River Forest — where Eggert has spent his 41 years in fire service.
He said there are individuals who jump to other departments every year or two, but that’s not for him. “Those individuals are serving themselves, not the community,” Eggert said.
“One of the nicest compliments I’ve gotten was at a high school reunion. A young lady came up to me and said, ‘You really did it. You got to do what you wanted to do. Not too many people can say that.’”
While retirement is on the not-so-distant horizon, the nine-year chief said staff and residents don’t need to plan the farewell party just yet. He said he still loves the job and coming to work every day. But when the time comes, he knows he is leaving an excellent department in capable hands.
“We have a deputy chief (Bob Nortier) who can run the department,” Eggert said. “I was picked through a search process. I told them we would not have to do that again, that we would mentor individuals within the department.”
Village Administrator Eric J. Palm said Eggert is a key part of the village’s management team, providing advice and counsel, and a historical perspective on issues.
“Jim is a true professional,” Palm said. “The designation he received speaks a lot to the individual and his commitment to professional development … His effort provides a benefit to the village and our taxpayers.”