Seventeen firefighters were sworn into duty with the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District on Sunday, along with officers who were promoted to lieutenant, captain, and deputy chief.
Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said that, as the first new chief in 35 years, he promoted several from the ranks and added additional new firefighters to increase staff. All at the department except the chief and administrative secretary are part-time, he said, even the new hires.
Department Chaplain Steve Larson was also sworn in, even though he has served the district for several years. They realized it was just something that hadn’t been done, Steffes said.
Sworn in as officers were Deputy Chief Robert Wills; Captains Jeffrey Wilson and David Wiechen; and Lieutenants Chris Kindelspire, Robert Blair, David Reid, Mike Meloun, Eric Larson, Ronald Marx, and Shane Sater.
New firefighters sworn in were Kyle Hofmann, Ryan Seggebruch, Brandon Seggebruch, Robert Underhill, Tim Nance, Michael Kucia, Brian Alesia, Paul Czech, Jacob Bulthuis, Brandon Brasseur, Jeff Parker, Joshua Henschen, Joshua Blaskey, Adam Wilson, Marcus Dunkin, Keith Jurek, and Matthew McCarthy.
“It was a great day today,” Steffes said after the ceremony. “It was a great turnout, too. It was good to show the public what we’re doing at the fire department to make them safer.”
For the new hires, Steffes said, he put together a team of his officers and firefighters, who conducted the interviews. About 45 applicants were interviewed initially. Four of those hired are going through the Chief Shabbona Fire Academy right now, and the remaining have already completed academy training. The district offers further in-house training.
The district’s board president, Dave Bonomo, led Sunday’s swearing-in ceremony through the honor guard presenting and posting the colors, the welcome, the invocation, the guest speaker, and the swearing-in and pinning of the members.
“With our first full-time chief,” Bonomo said of Steffes, “he became the first full-time sworn officer. As a result, we decided to swear in our current officers and new officers, along with all the new firefighters hired within the last year.”
Bonomo said that even though the department is a full-time one, manned and operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it uses part-time firemen, many of whom are professional firefighters in other departments.
Bonomo said 2013 has proven to be quite a year for the department, especially for the new hires. In a single six-day period, he said, they battled a business fire, an apartment building fire, a house fire, and a house explosion.
Then a few days later, a plane landed on Illinois 47.
The guest speaker of the event was Bonomo’s brother, Andrew Bonomo Jr., who has been fire chief of the York Center Fire Protection for 25 years and in the fire service for 40 years.
Chief Bonomo began with a nod to recently retired Morris Fire Chief Bob Coleman.
“To Chief Coleman, a chief I’ve known for many years,” he spoke, “thank you for your years of service. You have paved the way for us and now it is our turn to carry the torch.”
To those who were about to be sworn in, he had advice to be very careful with social media, to watch each other’s backs, and to never stop training.
“You are or will be part of a great tradition,” he said. “The patch you wear says Morris Fire District. Wear it with pride.”
Steffes addressed the new firefighters with words of caution for them and their families. They must understand the commitment, he said, of their loved ones.
“When you become a Morris firefighter,” he said, “you are making a commitment to your fellow firefighters, to the fire district, and to the citizens of our fire district. You will be dedicating yourself to learn the job through countless hours of training — preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. You will be called upon to answer many different calls for help and assistance. These calls will come at the most inopportune times of the day and night.”
Without the support of their families, he told them, they will have a difficult time succeeding.
To his officers, he gave his congratulations and told them he and Deputy Chief Wills know they are ready to face the challenges ahead.
Steffes also told Wills that Wills was “one of the greats,” a second-generation firefighter as the son of a firefighter. Wills’ son is also a Morris firefighter.
Keith Jurek was one of the newly sworn-in firefighters. His father, Jack, from Frankfort, and his fiancé, Caryn Smith, were in the audience.
“We are all very proud of him,” his father said. “It’s a great accomplishment to become a fireman. It’s quite an honor.”
Jack Jurek said that he remembers his son wanting to be a firefighter for years.
“Ever since I was a little kid and I would see the big red truck, I wanted to be a firefighter,” Keith Jurek said. “I love it. I feel like part of the family here already. I look forward to being able to help. I feel this department is just great.”
Michael Kucia, of New Lenox, was another new firefighter sworn in Sunday.
“It feels good,” Kucia said. “I always wanted to be a fireman.”
Kucia’s grandfather, Joe Cambria, is a retired Deputy District Fire Chief in Chicago, and he pinned Kucia during the ceremony Sunday.
“I’m proud of him,” Cambria said. “My advice to him is to be safe. Listen to his officers and keep his eyes open and his mouth shut.”
Steffes concluded his speech on Sunday with a quote from Shakespeare — “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”