New DeKalb Fire Chief aims to make department more efficient


Courtesy of Scott Zak

Michael Thomas is sworn-in as Fire Chief before the DeKalb City Council on April 11.

DeKALB ― After nearly 27 years of fire service, Michael Thomas was sworn in as DeKalb County’s next fire chief April 11.

Previously, Thomas served as acting fire chief after the retirement of Jeff McMaster in November. 

“I feel like my mission is to help the firefighters do a good job for the community,” Thomas said. 

Before serving as acting chief, Thomas made his way through the ranks, starting with his initial title of firefighter and paramedic in 1995, according to the city of DeKalb’s Facebook page. In his time at the DeKalb County Fire Department, Thomas had been promoted four times.

“It’s been very busy,” Thomas said of his time as acting chief. “We’ve had a lot of growth in personnel and a lot of capital needs that we’ve been able to take care of.” 

Having the knowledge of each rank, along with his history with the department, could be an asset for Thomas as he begins his role as fire chief. 

“Basically, you have to be aware of the budget, create a path towards success and get buy-in from the firefighters,” Thomas said about the job’s requirements. “To do that, we have to know where we’ve been.” 

In 26 years of fire service, Thomas said he has seen the ups and downs of the fire station, including the effects of the pandemic. 

“We’ve had some challenges with the pandemic, (but) we want to get back to pre-pandemic training, public education and recruiting,” Thomas said. 

Currently, Illinois fire departments are seeing a vast decline in volunteer firefighters, which necessitates recruitment incentives, according to the State Journal-Register

Locally, there have been recruitment efforts targeting NIU’s athletes, Thomas said. 

This is due to the need for firefighters to maintain physical fitness in order to perform the necessary tasks of a firefighter, according to FirefighterInsider, a blog created by and for firefighters.  

Despite his long history at the fire station, Thomas’ goal was never to become fire chief.

“Fire service, in general, was not on my radar,”  Thomas said “(Initially,) I was in the private sector, and I learned a lot. (But being in fire service is) the best thing that’s happened to me and my family.” 

As fire chief, Thomas wants to continue helping the community and his staff by creating more efficient solutions to common problems. 

Helping the department become more efficient could involve investing in new tools or more efficient technologies. 

“I have a responsibility to the department and the community,” Thomas said. “If we (can) do something more efficiently, I want to do that so that (the firefighters) can do their jobs well.”

Thomas is taking the newfound responsibility seriously. At the swearing-in ceremony, Thomas became emotional and remarked that he would continue to work hard for the DeKalb community, according to the Daily Chronicle

“As long as the position doesn’t affect who I am, and I don’t (start thinking) I’m too (good) for the job, I think I’ve shown that I can be a good fit,” Thomas said.