O'Fallon Progress

Meet Steve Donahue, president of local engineering firm and captain with the O’Fallon Fire Department

Steve Donahue
Steve Donahue

Steve Donahue is a guy you can count on – at work, at his children’s schools, at church and as a volunteer firefighter.

Donahue, one of three captains in the O’Fallon Fire Department, was appointed about five years ago. He helps oversee the crew at Engine House #4, which is at 1215 Taylor Road, and is also the headquarters for the fire department.

“My responsibility is Station 4. I see what the chief wants to do, if he has major projects he wants us to do,” he said.

He has been a city firefighter for 15 years, soon after moving to O’Fallon.

While growing up in Marion, Ill., he was fascinated by the firefighters of his youth.

“What little kid didn’t want to grow up and be a fireman, and ride in the red truck?” he said. “I had a cousin who was a volunteer firefighter, and that piqued my interest. He was a coal miner in Marissa.”

Donahue became a professional engineer after graduating from the University of Illinois with a master’s degree in civil engineering.

“I just liked building things, and seeing how they worked,” he said.

He credits his late grandfather as an inspiration. He was a coal miner in Coulterville.

“He was a self-educated and self-made man. He figured things out and taught me a lot, taught me to work hard. He had a big influence on me,” he said.

Donahue is currently president of Horner & Shifrin, an engineering services company with offices in St. Louis, O’Fallon, Mo. and Ill., and Poplar Bluff, Mo.

He is the seventh and youngest president ever for the 85-year-old company.

They provide services for all phases of a project, including design, feasibility, planning, development and construction administration. They also offer materials testing, land surveying, GIS mapping and hosting.

When the company opened the O’Fallon, Ill., office in 2002, Donahue was appointed the project manager and worked with many towns in the metro-east.

When planning to move from Manchester, Mo., to the east side, they settled on O’Fallon, after reading about the city in a “Places to Be” article. They easily fell in love with their new town, he said.

Getting involved in the community was something he wanted to do. Two years later, he became a volunteer firefighter.

“I thought it would be a good way to serve – it seemed like a good bunch of people,” he said.

He trained through a year-long program at Southwestern Illinois College. All firefighters must keep up with training to be certified.

The department averages about 80 calls a month, and he responds to 30 to 40 calls.

“They go in spurts. Sometimes, you just go back to bed, and then you get called to go out again. Sometimes, you get home, and just go straight into the shower and head for work,” he said.

He admires how the Public Safety team operates.

“It is an honor to work alongside the professional men and women in the fire department, as well the other emergency services departments (police, emergency medical services and telecommunicators),” he said. “We work well together.”

The departments’ efficiency is impressive, he said.

“The residents should take comfort in knowing how highly trained, equipped and prepared O’Fallon’s emergency services are,” he said. “I think they would be amazed to see how seamlessly it comes together.”

The department personnel keep up-to-date with training drills.

“You always have to prepare for the ‘What If’s’ these days,” he said.

He and his wife, Karen, have two children: Hannah, 14, and Sam, 12. He met Karen on a blind date through church, and they have been married 20 years.

For work, he is a member of the Engineers Club of St. Louis and serves on the board of directors of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. Steve is also active in the American Council of Engineering Companies, where he serves as vice chair of ACEC-Illinois.

In O’Fallon, he enjoys following his children’s activities. Hannah plays clarinet in the O’Fallon Township High School Marching Panthers.

“They work really hard,” he said.

He is part of the “Transportation Team,” which rolls out the tarp and helps set up at competitions.

His daughter is a freshman, so he looks forward to more years of band performances, and his son, Sam, may take part too. He is a student at Fulton Junior High School and plays percussion.

He is also active in his church, Shiloh United Methodist.

Chief Brent Saunders said he is very pleased with the department’s 51 members.

“All our staff are dedicated to serving the communities that we protect. There is a great deal of pride to wear the uniform representing O’Fallon Fire Rescue,” Saunders said.

For the city, the fire department is set up with chief, administrative assistant, fire safety educator and operations supervisor as the career staff and as paid on-call the deputy chief, assistant chief, three captains, three lieutenants and one safety officer, who has the rank of lieutenant. The rest are volunteers who are paid per call.

“All these officers have a multitude of responsibility in addition to emergency response. It takes a team to make things work,” Saunders said.

Donahue credits the department personnel and city officials for having such a well-run, prepared team.

“I am proud to say I am an O’Fallon firefighter,” he said. “We have great leadership in the fire department and tremendous support from the city’s administration and elected leaders. They give us the tools and training to be prepared to handle anything that comes our way.”

Residents can view equipment and facilities during an open houses set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Engine House #4, the Headquarters. You can learn about fire safety. Events include safety demonstrations in the smoke house, a slide pole for the kids to slide down, our antique trucks and more. Parking is limited around the fire house, please consider carpooling, or plan to walk from the Sports Park.

It’s Fire Prevention Week Oct. 7 -13, and the National Fire Protection Association’s theme this year is: “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.”

Firefighters have been visiting schools in the district this month too.

Interested in volunteering?

“We are always looking for volunteers,” Donahue said.

For further information, visit: www.ofallonfire.com/recruitment

Q: Do you have words to live by?

“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” I take it as if you are going to do something, do it correctly and to the best of your ability. Do not do it halfway.

Q: Whom do you most admire?

My late grandfather. Although he only had an eighth-grade education, he was a brilliant, self-made and self-educated man. He had an influence on my becoming an engineer and taught me the value of working hard. He did not let the circumstances of his childhood keep him down.

Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?

Abraham Lincoln. I am a history buff, especially the Civil War. His life story is amazing, and his leading us through the Civil War was truly remarkable.

Q: What is the last book that you read?

“Your Cash is Flowing,” written by my chief financial officer. Maybe he was trying to tell me something.

Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?

I enjoy being a band dad and helping the Marching Panthers (#TarpTown), where my daughter plays the clarinet. In my limited spare time, I enjoy going to some property I own on the Illinois River where hunting, fishing and ATV riding are a great distraction. It is good place to get away from the hustle and bustle and disconnect for a moment.

Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?

It is cyclical. I will let the mess build up until I have to take time and reset it to a workable space.

Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?

I was fortunate in that I figured out I wanted to be an engineer at an early point in my childhood. It allowed me to focus on math and science in school and do things to help make it become a reality.

Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?

I am analytical, as most engineers are. I also like to think I can be counted on to get something done.

Q: What irritates you most?

People who do not follow through on what they say they will do.

Q: What type of music do you listen to?

Several genres, including contemporary Christian, country and pop.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

In my role as a firefighter, I love the idea of helping people in their time of need, many times on their worst day, and not expecting anything in return but maybe a simple thank you.

As president of an engineering company, it is satisfying to know we design things that improve quality of life. I enjoy seeing a project we have designed come to life and realize I had a small part in that.

Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?

Still working, just not for pay. After retirement, I hope to be blessed with good health and the ability to volunteer somewhere, such as a hospital or my church.

Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?

Tom Hanks. Not because I resemble him but I really admire his acting ability.

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?

My family. That is all I would need. (Although the analytical side of me says to make sure I have a satellite phone handy)

Lynn Venhaus: lynnvenhaus@gmail.com