Kankakee Fire Chief Damon Schuldt

Kankakee Fire Chief Damon Schuldt sits at Station No. 6 on Thursday ahead of his last day as the department’s top official. Schuldt, 58, a city firefighter since Dec. 18, 1990, and the department’s chief since May 2017, resigned following incoming Mayor-elect Chris Curtis’ confirmation that a new chief would be contracted to the position. Schuldt said his contract expired with the city on Friday, April 30. READ MORE

KANKAKEE — What do Roy DeSoto, John Gage and Damon Schuldt have in common?

DeSoto and Gage were the main characters on the NBC 1970s series “Emergency!” that chronicled the characters’ jobs as paramedics/firefighters for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

They were part of the reason the 58-year-old Schuldt chose firefighting and being an EMT/paramedic as his career.

“I would watch that show. I liked what they did,” Schuldt said earlier this week. “It evolved from there.”

He joined the Milford Fire Protection District in October 1984 starting his journey as a firefighter and paramedic.

The journey led him to the Bradley department in September 1989, then to the Kankakee department in December 1990, where he retired Friday as the department’s chief.

Schuldt was appointed the interim chief in May 2017 and then officially became the department’s 19th chief in August 2017. He was appointed by outgoing Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong. She declined to comment for this story.

“It’s bittersweet,” Schuldt said of his retirement.

He met with Mayor-elect Chris Curtis earlier this week and was informed he would be replaced as chief. Curtis has since announced his choice for fire chief will be Kankakee Fire Capt. Bryan LaRoche.

Schuldt said he thought about retiring last winter since he had reached 30 years of service but decided to stay on as the COVID-19 pandemic lingered.

“I never had an inkling that I would be a chief one day,” Schuldt explained.

Now there will be time for Schuldt and his wife, Gayle, to work on their collection of classic vehicles, travel and spend time with their two sons and daughter.

“My wife has always been there. She has been supportive and sacrificed. I couldn’t have done this without her,” Schuldt said.

Schuldt’s daughter is graduating next weekend as a registered nurse.

“Just the other day we were talking about her graduating. She told me as I am ending my career, she was beginning hers. It is an interesting perspective,” Schuldt recalled.

Looking back over the past four years as chief, Schuldt said he was able to get the most of his five-year plan in place.

“We were able to purchase two much-needed ambulances, including both being the first-four-wheel drive ambulances in the department’s history,” he said.

“We also secured two staff vehicles — one all-wheel drive Explorer for shift commanders and a car for the fire prevention bureau. We recently ordered a new pumper with great assistance from our apparatus committee, and laid the groundwork for the refurbishment of an engine.

“I strived to stand up for my department and at times had to go up against some aldermen to accomplish that.”

Helping the department get the best fire rating for the city is another achievement Schuldt said he is proud to have obtained during his tenure.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is an independent, non-governmental, international organization that develops standards to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.

An ISO 1 rating places the Kankakee’s department in the top 2 percent of fire departments in Illinois and the United States.

Schuldt considers earning the Chief Fire Officer designation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence Commission on Professional Credentialing in October 2020 a huge accomplishment.

He is one of 1,400 fire chiefs to achieve the designation.

This designation recognizes individuals who demonstrate excellence in seven measured components including experience, education, professional development, professional contributions, association membership, community involvement and technical competence.

As he looked back over the past four years, he said he tried his best guiding the department during his tenure.

“Kankakee’s department is tops,” he said. “I did the best I could do. There were probably times it was not the right decision, but I dealt with what I knew at the time. There was no malice. I tried to do the best I could and I think I did.”

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.