DeKalb Fire Chief reflects on 30 years of community service


Northern Star File Photo- Bruce Harrison is sworn in as DeKalb fire chief in January 2009.

By Olivia Willoughby

After 30 years of serving the community, DeKalb Fire Chief Bruce Harrison will leave his position to become Notre Dame’s fire chief.

Harrison said he will move to his new position March 1, but will leave the DeKalb County Fire Department in mid to late February.

Harrison said he took on every position at the DeKalb County Fire Department, 1154 S. Seventh St., including firefighter, paramedic attendant, captain, assistant chief, and the interim fire chief.

“As far as moving up in the ranks, I enjoyed every moment of every rank,” Harrison said. “It was a great experience to continue to go out and serve the community. It was no doubt an enjoyable period for me.”

Harrison said he spent his adult life responding to and serving the community. He knew at one point, however, he would leave.

“At some point, you have to recognize what to do with your career,” Harrison said. “At that time, I wasn’t looking for a change in career, but this opportunity was brought to me by my family members. It’s a great opportunity that was extended to me.”

Though given a great opportunity to move up, Harrison said he finds it hard to leave.

“It’s a good opportunity, personally, to take on a new position,” Harrison said. “I have been a part of this community my whole adult life and working for this community is great. I do feel blessed by the great opportunity.”

Harrison said he is “forever a Huskie” as he has served the university along with the rest of the community.

Harrison’s friend and co-worker, Battalion Chief James Zarek, remembered a humorous moment during a fire on the 100th block of South First Street.

“[Harrison] was supposed to be in charge of the fire and he couldn’t get out of the car,” Zarek said. “That always has a good chuckle.”

Harrison didn’t have his shoes, but he said he still had to get the job done.

“There was a great need to push through, and I ended up going out in slippers,” Harrison said. “It’s things like that that are a part of firehouse culture. Not everything goes as you planned it, but you still have to find a way to get it done.”

Other memories include the Feb. 14 tragedy and the disappearance and search for Toni Keller. Harrison said it was an honor to be able to respond to several of these calls and help those in need.

Even though he will miss his friend, Zarek said he is still happy for Harrison’s accomplishment.

“We are sad to see him go,” Zarek said. “Like anything, when the chief announces their leave, there’s an initial ‘Now what are we going to do?’ We’re losing out on a lot of experience and wisdom. We’ll miss having him here.”

DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen also said he will miss Harrison and his hard work in the community. He considers Harrison’s leave a tremendous loss for the city.

“I believe he was a tremendous chief, resident and employee for 30 years. He brought a lot of professionalism,” Povlsen said. “But how can someone not be glad that he’s making a career change that he feels is in the best interests of himself professionally as well as personally for his family?”

Povlsen said Harrison raised the standards for fire protection and medical service in the fire department.

Both Zarek and Povlsen said Harrison will be missed, but they know whoever takes his place has the talent to fill Harrison’s shoes.

“There are some excellent employees that are in the ranks,” Povlsen said. “I hope his legacy will continue and that we’ll continue to have excellent fire services.”

While Harrison said he looks forward to his duty at Notre Dame, he knows it will be a similar to his work in DeKalb County.

“The only difference is that I’ll be serving the University of Notre Dame,” Harrison said. “I look forward to the opportunity and the challenges at Notre Dame. It will be a great challenge, opportunity and great fit for myself.”

The city manager is currently deciding who will fill Harrison’s position.