Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets speaks at the Chicago Ridge Fire Department's Dec. 19 holiday party after members of the firefighters union presented him with the first George W. Sheets Award for professionalism, progress and results during the past 21/2 years that he has led the department. It will now be awarded annually to a member of the department.
Who else would get the inaugural Fire Chief George W. Sheets Award but the man it is named after?
Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets was surprised when he received the award from the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Union at the department-wide Christmas party held Dec. 19.
“It’s really an honor to receive an award named after you. And not too many unions are giving awards to fire chiefs these days,” said Sheets. "As you can imagine,I was very surprised and taken off guard when they announced my name for the award. Over the past three years, we have partnered with the firefighters union to accomplish a substantial amount of positive, cost-efficient and innovative change within the department. A key to our success is providing an atmosphere of ownership, and giving the employees opportunities to recognize concerns within the organization, and the tools to make the changes that are necessary," said Sheets.
In fact, the more common scenario these days is what happened in Chicago in September, when the executive board of Chicago Fire Department Union Local 2 declared a vote of no-confidence in Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago. The same was done at fire departments in Maine, Delaware and other states this year.
But Chicago Ridge Fire Department Capt. Chris Bennett said Sheets deserved the award named after him. The plan is to present the award annually to a deserving member of the department who shows the qualities emblazoned on the plaque: professionalism, progress and results.
Bennett said a lot of improvements have been made in the department in the 21/2 years since Sheets took over as chief. He actually does double-duty, serving as fire chief of neighboring Oak Lawn as well in an arrangement that the mayors of both communities said has worked well.
“The reason he got the award is he is constantly doing things to make the department better,” said Bennett.
Bennett cited the creation of the part-time firefighter program, with fully-trained part-time firefighters working alongside the 13 full-time firefighters as one of Sheets’ accomplishments. He said Sheets has also expanded the role of paid on-call firefighters, a program that grew out of the department that was made up of volunteer firefighters.
Bennett said the success of the part-time firefighter program is allowing the department to keep the village’s second firehouse, at 107th and Lombard Avenue, open 24/7, starting in mid-February. For the past year, since it was reopened in April 2015, it has been open 12 hours a day. Currently, ambulances are based at the station, but eventually fire equipment will be, too. Officials said having it open has reduced response time by more than two minutes, because the main firehouse is located on Virginia Avenue is in an industrial park away from the center of the village.
The fire captain said union members began making plans for the award presentation and the Christmas party in September, after 10 department promotions were made and three lieutenants and three captains were named. Bennett said the six lieutenants and captains decided to form a firefighters club, which will raise money for a local family in need, make the annual award presentation, and fund the annual party. Bennett said the union used to hold its own parties, but the party last week at the Virginia Avenue station was the first time the celebration was department-wide.
“This system is better than under past administrations, when we had three deputy chiefs who were only administrators and shift commanders. They could not work any equipment. Now, as a captain, in addition to being a shift commander, I can go out on calls to monitor the situation. We now have enough people to man two ambulances, and we don’t need to look for help from neighboring communities as much as we once did,” said Bennett.
“The bottom line is, (Sheets) is a great delegator, and we are getting things done. He protects this town more than it ever has been before.”