Metro-East News

Former Signal Hill fire chief happy to have lived his dream job

Longtime Signal Hill fire chief retires

Retired Signal Hill Fire Department Chief Greg Render talks about his time leading the department near Belleville, IL, in St. Clair County near St. Louis, MO.
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Retired Signal Hill Fire Department Chief Greg Render talks about his time leading the department near Belleville, IL, in St. Clair County near St. Louis, MO.

As he looked back on a quarter century of leading the Signal Hill Fire Department, Greg Render said he got to live his childhood dream.

“When I grew up, I’d tell everyone I was going to be a firefighter,” Render said. “More specifically, I told everyone that I was going to be the chief of the Signal Hill Fire Department.”

Tabbed to lead the volunteer fire department just west of Belleville in 1992, Render’s dream job was complete at the end of 2016. He retired, handing over reigns of the department to long-time co-worker Tom Elliff. Since the department started keeping track of computerized records in 1995, Render responded to more than 2,800 calls for service and spent more than 2,800 hours of training, earning a number of certifications along the way.

The firefighting business has totally changed since Render made his first run with the department as a young volunteer in 1971, he said. The technology that firefighters have at their disposal helps make their job safer and easier.

“We have thermal imaging cameras and breathing apparatus that are a lot better,” he said. “Communications are better. Our turnout gear is better. The science in how we put out fires is better. We have a better understanding of how we need to go in and put out fires.”

The science in how we put out fires is better. We have a better understanding of how we need to go in and put out fires.

Greg Render, retired Signal Hill Fire Department chief

The department, which covers five square miles just west of Belleville’s city limits, has grown and now works out of a renovated building that is big enough for all of the equipment the department needs.

“It gives us room to operate,” Render said of the firehouse, which was renovated in 2006. “We were trying to shove 2006 fire trucks into a building that was built in 1946. It doesn’t work. It gave us room. It fit our immediate needs, but also will meet our needs into the future.”

The future of the department is now in Elliff’s hands. He is no stranger to the department, having been with the group since 1985.

“Biggest challenge I’m going to face is volunteer staffing,” Eliff said. “Volunteerism as a whole is down. We’d certainly love to have more firefighters. Without the people, the equipment and the station don’t mean a thing.”

There are 22 active firefighters on the Signal Hill roster, which is down a bit from the 25 to 26 the department averaged during Render’s tenure.

We’d certainly love to have more firefighters. Without the people, the equipment and the station don’t mean a thing.

Tom Elliff, Signal Hill Fire Department chief

Working with those people is what Render is going to miss most about the department.

“We’ve had a lot of good people come through this organization,” he said. “Some have used it as a stepping stone to a career position, and we’re happy to have provided them that opportunity.”

Render has been thinking about retirement for several years. When the district’s finances tightened in recent years, he decided the best thing to do was to retire. The district receives all its money from property taxes, and the chief is the lone paid position, Render said.

“We’ve seen a downturn in housing values in our district, that has impacted negatively the fire district’s budget,” he said. “It was to the point that we had to think about cutting back on expenses, and I’m an expense they could cut back on.”

Render plans to stay involved with the department as a volunteer. He also will continue work he does for the National Fire Protection Association. When he’s not volunteering his time, Render intends to ride his motorcycle across the country with his wife, Shelley.

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND

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