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Retiring Geneva fire chief led department into modern era


After serving the community for more than 40 years, Fire Chief Steve Olson will be signing off from his post for the Geneva Fire Department on June 30.

Olson, of Geneva, intends to retire so that he may explore other opportunities in teaching the next crop of emergency medical and firefighter professionals.

“I’m probably the last of my group that retired,” he said, noting how many of the professionals he worked alongside for much of his career had already left the department.

In 1974, Olson first joined the ranks of the Geneva Fire Department as an on-call firefighter. Subsequent to that, he was promoted to fire lieutenant coming on board as a full-time employee. On the way to becoming fire chief in 1996, he was also named captain and deputy fire chief.

Apart from working for the Geneva Fire Department, Olson served as a field instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute from 1986 to 1996.

Olson said he will miss working for the fire department, in part, because of the camaraderie built among those on staff.

“You get to know each other,” he said. “You share the ups and downs. (Camaraderie) is built into the firehouse. You work closely with the members of the shift. That’s a natural occurrence.”

Olson noted the many ways in which the fire department evolved over the years, as did the city of Geneva.

“The city’s grown a lot and changed, and so has the department,” he said.

During Olson’s time with the department, he said fire department heralded a number of accomplishments, including the construction of two fire stations, the purchase of a new fleet of vehicles and the implementation of technology.

Also new to the fire department was a community-based Automated External Defibrillator program that assisted local businesses and organizations in acquiring the devices in addition to training, installation and maintenance, as well as the development of the In-Service Company Inspection program that ensured annual inspection of commercial properties and introduced the use of laptop computers in fire vehicles to improve firefighter and paramedic response.

Olson said the fire department has been responsive to the community’s needs.

“We’ve been able to develop a combination,” he said. “ We’ve been able to move from a department that’s completely on call to more close to an even split. A combination department really anchors you into the community.”

Today, Olson oversees a combination department with 27 full-time firefighters/paramedics and 40 paid on-call members.

He said it’s nice seeing the department take on new and younger members in continuing the tradition of success.

In 2001, the Geneva Fire Department received accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

He said they’ve been accredited ever since then, and it changes the way they do business for the better.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with very collaborative chiefs,” he said, noting the level at which they shared resources and techniques amongst one another.

He added that all changes to the fire department are hoped to serve as a benefit to the residents.

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