For the first time in the history of the Washington Park Fire Department, the person in charge is a woman.
Mayor Rickie Thomas appointed Sharon Davis — the woman he named interim chief 30 days after he took office — as the new chief of the department, which is now all-volunteer. She was given a four-year term. And, because she is doing it voluntarily, Thomas said the village will save almost $300,000 over the four years.
“Some of the largest cities... like Fairview Heights and O’Fallon have a volunteer fire department. They have a lot more revenue than we do,” Thomas said. “Our revenue and tax base is a lot less than theirs.”
Davis said she realized at an early age that she could take care of emergency situations for people who needed help. “I saw it was something that I could do,” she said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Named interim fire chief for the village June 8 and raised to permanent chief June 29, Davis has been busy working to “bring back pride and tradition to this fire department so the citizens can get and the department can provide better fire service,” she said.
The citizens of the Village of Washington Park can expect “excellent service from Davis and those she is responsible for. She has already been doing an excellent job,” Thomas said.
He said a priority for him is to save the village money in any way that he can. “What she is doing is a great help to the village,” Thomas said. He said Davis is looking to staff the department 24 hours a day. And Thomas said he is hoping for a decrease in the fire insurance residents have to pay when the department is fully staffed.
Thomas said Chuck Schreiber, the former interim chief of the department, wanted a salary of $50,000 plus benefits, something Thomas said the village simply could not afford.
Davis, 43, who is currently running the Camp Jackson Fire Department, agreed to take over the chief’s job for no salary.
I saw it was something that I could do.
Sharon Davis on why she became a firefighter
Davis said she has 21 years of fire experience and an associate’s degree in fire science from Southwestern Illinois College. She is a mother of a 20-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Her full-time job is working for Cencom as a 911 dispatcher. Davis is also an EMT with the Dupo Fire Department.
She began her career as a firefighter with the Prairie DuPont Fire Department in 1998 and worked her way to the rank of assistant chief. She stayed until May 2010.
Asked why she agreed to do the job without taking a salary, she said she wants the village to give the money back to the citizens of Washington Park.
Thomas appointed Robbie Wolfmeier as assistant fire chief, which is also a volunteer position.
Former Mayor Ann Rodgers made the department all volunteer except for the chief job, which is one that has been mostly a paid position in the village. Schreiber was making $42,000 a year.
Schreiber said he did ask for $50,000, but he said he put in many hours at the Washington Park Fire Department. Typically, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., he was there. And anytime there was a call later in the day, evening or night, he was there, too, he said.
As far as staffing the department 24 hours, Schreiber said it was difficult to get anyone locally to do it because no one wants to do it for free. Schreiber got a couple of people from Caseyville, Fairmont City and Collinsville to volunteer. Schreiber came from Cahokia.
According to Davis, the Washington Park department has 21 volunteers — two women and 19 men.
Davis knows fire departments are filled with men and that women are few and far between. But that is not something that bothers her. She said she knows she can do the job, and she wants other women to know that they can, too. Davis said as she looks around for more volunteers, she is “definitely looking for more women.”
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503
- Age: 43
- Experience: 21 years of firefighting
- Education: Associate’s degree in fire science from Southwestern Illinois College
- Family: 20-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son
- Day jobs: 911 dispatcher for Cencom and EMT with the Dupo Fire Department