Elgin Fire veteran retires; new deputy chief in Streamwood
By Dave Gathman email@example.com January 28, 2012 10:26PM
Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy (right) reads a certificateFriday, to Asst. Chief Mike Baker, Friday, at a retirement celebration for him. | Dave Shields~For Suntimes Media.
Updated: March 1, 2012 8:23AM
ELGIN — “At 5 o’clock today, I’ll take off this white Elgin Fire Department shirt, and at 8 o’clock on Monday morning I’ll put on the same color shirt, but it will have a Streamwood Fire Department patch on it,” William “Mike” Baker said as about 20 former co-workers and fire chiefs from neighboring towns gathered Friday afternoon to wish him a happy retirement from the Elgin force.
As far as the city of Elgin was concerned, the 52-year-old Elgin resident was leaving after 26 years with the Elgin Fire Department, including the last seven years as one of two assistant fire chiefs. But beginning Monday, he will be starting a whole new career as the deputy fire chief in Streamwood.
His replacement in Elgin has not yet been determined — a situation perhaps made even more indefinite by a number of budget-driven personnel layoffs on the city staff announced the same afternoon. Baker said that in general, he has been the assistant chief in charge of administrative matters while Assistant Chief Dave Schmidt, who continues on the job, has usually been in charge of operations. “But we switched back and forth as needed,” he said.
Baker said the way he became a firefighter and paramedic “proves that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.”
Change in course
Growing up in Bartlett during the 1960s and 1970s, he said, “I would have laughed if someone said I would become a fireman. I always wanted to be a pilot like my dad. But a high school buddy helped get me a job with the Hanover Park Fire Department, and I loved it.”
Baker said he enjoyed fighting fires but especially liked the ambulance side of the job.
“I enjoy being able to figure out what is wrong with a patient and somehow to get them to a hospital in better shape than we found them.”
Moving over to the Elgin Fire Department at age 26, in 1985, Baker was promoted to lieutenant in 1995, then captain in 2001 and assistant chief in 2004.
Between November 2010 and January 2011, between the time when Chief John Henrici left the department and John Fahy replaced him, Baker was the acting chief.
Baker said he has seen a lot of changes in the city since his early days and in the Elgin Fire Department since he was hired.
“I can remember, when we lived in Bartlett in the ’60s, going shopping on Saturday morning in downtown Elgin and my dad wanting to leave early so we could park in the Sears or Penney’s parking lots for free just so he could avoid putting 5 cents in the parking meters. I think the city has done a great job of balancing its attention to the older areas like that and the bright and shining new developments.”
Baker has played a personal role in that, too. As Elgin expanded over the past 15 years beyond the size of a five-fire-station city, he helped with the budgeting and planning for the new Station 6 on West Chicago Street and Station 7 on Longcommon Parkway.
“While Mike might be retiring after nearly 27 years of dedicated service, his principles and practices will be a guiding force for the department for years to come,” Chief Fahy said before attendees cut into a cake.
In others’ footsteps
He said the fact that Baker was hired for another high position with a neighboring department “shows that our training and programs create the type of officer that other communities are looking for.” He said Baker is following in the footsteps of such EFD veterans as Mike Falese, who became fire chief in Bartlett, and Kurt Kramer, who became fire chief in Hampshire.
Baker was named American Legion Firefighter of the Year in 1989 and received the 2006 George Van De Voorde Emergency Medical Services Leadership Award.
“My most significant accomplishment has been my involvement in the fire prevention education programs,” said Baker of the programs that included Grade School Fire Safety Education, Citizen CPR and the Senior Citizen Smoke Detector Program. “That’s where citizens received life-saving information about the dangers related to fire and general safety.”