Phil Decker, chief of the Highland-Pierron Fire Department … that certainly has a nice ring to it.
The longtime department captain was officially sworn in as the chief June 19, and he’s honored, humbled and excited to become the fourth chief since the department’s inception in 1950 and lead this group of firefighters.
“I look forward to leading this department for years to come,” Decker said. “Our members and their families are what make our department successful. Without the dedication of our members we wouldn’t be at the level we are today — it also takes a very supportive family.
“The families truly don’t get the credit that they deserve. The fire service is an amazing brotherhood that is like no other and everyone becomes family. Everyone is here because they want to give back to their community and help others.
Decker, 41, will oversee approximately 40 department members. He said the position requires 40-48 hours per week on average, including running fire calls.
“When people need help in any situation, we’re there for them,” Decker said. “We are a family that has each others back at a moment’s notice. We all work together to accomplish our goals.”
Decker assumes the post from Steve Plocher, who recently retired after 20 years as HPFD chief. Decker offered high praise for Plocher.
“Steve has given this department so much of his life, and it’s truly a testament of his passion for helping others,” Decker said. “He strived to make it the best volunteer department possible. He’s paved the way for us and we’re very thankful for his entire family for supporting him throughout all these years of service to his community.”
Decker — whose full-time job is supervisor of Public Works for the village of Grantfork — began his career with the department in January 2006. He served as a firefighter and then spent the past eight years as captain, a position which Decker said required supporting the chief on scenes wherever needed.
“In the event the chief or assistant chief isn’t available to respond to a fire call the captain will oversee that incident,” Decker said. “Captains are the leaders inside a hazard zone for the other firefighters while the chief oversees the entire incident.”
Decker’s positive outlook on department
Moving forward, Decker outlined departmental goals, including a plan to continue progressing with the technology and new techniques in the fire service. He also wants to see a local training center constructed to help keep the department’s firefighters trained throughout the entire area.
Finally, Decker said he wants to continue growing and fulfilling the needs of the district’s residents.
“Working closely with our neighboring departments is very crucial, due to the low number of available firefighters during the day for emergency calls,” he said. “This is a crisis across the nation, and we are continuing to train with our mutual aid departments to make sure that we have responders available for emergency calls.”
Decker highlighted several departmental strengths, including their in-house training.
“We have numerous members who are highly trained in the medical field and fire service,” Decker said. “They conduct trainings to share their knowledge and the entire department and community benefits. This allows us to be prepared for many different scenarios.”
He also lauded the department’s smoke detector service, in which they install and service residential smoke detectors for those who request it. The HPFD also offer reflective address signs for residents.
“These are just a few of the strengths our volunteer department offers to our community,” Decker said.
Decker did note potential challenges he’ll face, including finding the right candidates to become department members.
“This job isn’t for everyone and it takes a special person to drop everything in their personal life to run and help a neighbor or a complete stranger,” he said. “This is a volunteer job that can be very rewarding and very challenging at the same time.
“The state’s requirements on the training of volunteer fire departments are demanding and always changing. Keeping up with the required training hours for volunteers requires a lot of dedication and commitment from each member of our department.
Decker takes over just in time to usher in the new HPFD facility. The department has a goal of late August to be moved into the new station at the corner of Broadway and Iberg Road in Highland. The facility will be nearly 10,000 square feet.
“We are grateful for the ability to build a new firehouse,” Decker said. “The new location will provide more room for training classes that we host and allow other local departments to send new firefighters to. This facility will last us for many years to come.”
About Phil Decker
Decker and his wife, Crista, have been married 17 years. They have three children: Braxdon, 12; Kendyll, 9; and Pierce, 7.
Phil Decker moved to Highland in 1990, and the family lives in rural Pierron. He is a 1995 graduate of Highland High School and a graduate of Southwestern Illinois College.
He previously spent 20 years with AT&T as a lineman and also managed contractors.