DeKalb Fire Chief retires after 26 years of service

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photo courtesy of Jeff McMaster

Fire Chief Jeff McMaster will retire Nov. 27

Elisa Reamer, News Reporter

DeKALB – DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster will retire after 26 years of working with the DeKalb Fire Department on Nov. 27. He said he’s thankful for all of the people he has helped while in his time as a firefighter and now has the opportunity to pass on the job to someone new to help the station grow. 

McMaster wanted to be a firefighter for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Chicago, he would walk past a fire station to get to school, and it really appealed to him. His favorite TV show was Emergency, which is about the Los Angeles County Fire Department facing life-threatening situations. He saw firefighters as heroes, which drew him into the fire service, McMaster said. 

“You don’t feel like a hero; you just feel that it’s a calling,” McMaster said. “Most firefighters feel that this is something that you were born to do. You do it not because of status or benefit; you do it because this is something where you feel you can make a difference. For 28 years, I’ve been blessed to follow that calling and to be a part of it, and it’s been absolutely wonderful.” 

McMaster received his bachelor’s degree in business from DeVry University. Despite his business degree, he knew he still wanted to be a firefighter, so he was testing for departments while he was in college. 

“Once I became a firefighter, I went through the Fire Academy in Orland Park, and I also went to paramedic school at Eleanor Hospital,” McMaster said. “Throughout your career, they have what they call certificates through the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office. I pursued certificates in different areas, such as hazmat and rope. Then, in 2017, I completed my executive fire officer certificate through the National Fire Academy, which is a four-year master’s level course.” 

McMaster found his way to the DeKalb Fire Station after he explored the town when he found out about their testing. He was impressed with the structure of the fire station and its vehicles. He knew he wanted to be here because it was so different from where he grew up in Chicago, and he liked how the community of DeKalb was so put together. 

The best part about his job is seeing people help each other and the community coming together after a car accident or a house fire. McMaster said people would help bring the firefighters in or get food and drinks for the families affected.

Being a firefighter is rewarding because you get to show people compassion and lend them a helping hand, McMaster said. 

During his time as chief, he said his proudest moments came from being one of the largest response agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“None of us in the world had ever dealt with this before,” McMaster said. “We have to work through it, cooperate with other government agencies and the personnel here and in all the other various entities in our community. You know, communal housing within nursing homes, having to oversee and be responsible for the care of an entire city during an international pandemic as a fire chief.”

McMaster gravitated to the Public Education team because he wanted to do more to reach the community and teach everyone from kids to the elderly how to be safer. He would teach children about smoke, educate people on CPR or fire extinguishers and the elderly how to not fall and what to do in case of emergency. 

McMaster has also been on the Hazardous Materials Team since 1999. The team deals with buildings that fall, chemical trucks that tip over and weapons of mass destruction. 

“I joined the Hazardous Materials Team because I like the challenge of having to research chemicals, what type of protective equipment, and then special skills to handle those situations,” McMaster said. “Whether it’s a railcar tanker truck or a chemical spill in a building, you have to learn all of these different skills.” 

McMaster chose to retire after he evaluated what’s good for the department and himself. He said he’ll miss the people he worked with and grew up with during his time at the department the most.

“This is a good time to hand the reins to new people that will come up through the organization into new leadership roles, new ideas, new thought processes,” McMaster said. “And then it was a good time for myself to focus on different job options and family. All the different factors came together where this just seemed like an optimal time to retire and let the organization continue to grow.”