While firefighters are used to putting out fires, not everyone goes on to blaze trails of their own working their way up through the ranks to hail as fire chief.
For New Lenox resident Jim Jackson it certainly happened.
Jackson signed off from his post Aug. 31 as Downers Grove fire chief after 30 years of service and said if he had an opportunity to get a do-over, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s the love for the job, the love for helping people and serving the community,” he said. “When you learn from firefighters in working with them, that helps. It’s like a family. You spend all your time here helping them to serve the community.”
Jackson started as a firefighter and got involved on a number of committees. Seven years later, he served as technical rescue coordinator and subsequently became lieutenant in 1994 and deputy chief in 2001. By 2009, Jackson was appointed to assume his duties as fire chief.
Jackson intends to use his time off to pursue other interests.
“What I’ll do is spend time with family,” he said. “When we talk about the fire chief and its demand, it takes a lot out of the family, as well. … Golf, I’ll probably get back into it.”
Jackson strived to lead by example as fire chief. Like the other departmental heads, he carried out his duties and reported to a higher-ranking official.
“We have a department, and we work with the village,” he said. “It’s exciting. We have good people in Downers Grove. We work well together. My boss, the village manager, is outstanding. We learn from each other.”
The demand placed on fire chiefs has changed over the years, Jackson said. They don’t just sit at the firehouse.
Fire chiefs are typically responsible for overseeing the department in areas such as personnel and budgeting.
The role of the fire department has expanded throughout the years, Jackson said.
“Our staff, they have to be well-trained,” he said. “To see them grow is key. It’s gone from rescuing cats from trees to fires to emergency medical services to [Weapons of Mass Destruction]. The world’s changing, and we have to be prepared.”
As such, calls for service to the fire department have increased over time.
Jackson stressed that they use their resources wisely and maintained that making sure the community is safe is their top priority.
During his stint with the Downers Grove Fire Department, progress was made. Departmental accolades include obtaining an ISO Class 1 status and extending outreach programs to members of the community. Jackson’s leadership helped promote operations efficiency and provide direction in the areas of policy and procedures.
Jackson credits the success they attained over the years to encouraging staff members to “make this your home” when they’re climbing up the ranks.
“The biggest thing I believe in is being a team,” he said. “We worked together. It wasn’t just the chief. The group worked together to allow the department to grow.”
Jackson said he looks forward to seeing the fire department continue to grow.
“My retirement allows further movement to allow them to grow even more,” he said.