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By Bob Uphues
Mark Duffek, veteran of more than three decades with the Brookfield Fire Department, took the reins as chief being sworn in by Village Clerk Brigid Weber during a sometimes emotional ceremony at the April 23 meeting of the village board.
Duffek, 57, replaces Chief Patrick Lenzi, who has served in that role since October 2005 and announced his intention to retire last month. Like the outgoing chief, Duffek is a lifelong Brookfield resident.
"I still love this job, and I felt I can do it in a different capacity, if I was fortunate enough to be chosen," Duffek told the Landmark in an interview prior to being sworn in. "I can still give the village some knowledge I've garnered over the 32 years I've worked for them. It's a return on their investment."
Duffek said he had been planning to retire as a firefighter in November 2018, but that he changed his mind when Lenzi announced he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. Until then, Duffek said, he'd never thought to throw his hat into the ring to be fire chief.
"I never had that in my sights," Duffek said. "I was very happy, and I was content to be a firefighter and then a lieutenant. Being chief was never really my goal."
But as he approached his 58th birthday, Duffek also said becoming chief was a way for him to keep working in the job he loved.
"I'll be 58 in September, and firefighting takes its toll," Duffek said. "It's a physically demanding job."
During the interview process, which was handled by Lenzi, Human Resources Director Michelle Robbins and management consultant Jay Dalicandro, Duffek said he would commit five years to the chief's position if he was chosen.
"That's my intention, if the good lord is willing," Duffek said.
Duffek grew up in Brookfield with a keen awareness of public service. His father, Joseph, was a village trustee who was appointed to the post and then won election to two terms. His mom, Marie, still takes an interest in local politics and can frequently be seen in the audience at village board meetings.
"She's everywhere," Duffek said.
Duffek began his firefighting career in Brookfield as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1981, and on his first day he helped battle a major fire at 9501 Ogden Ave., leaving him thinking, "What in the hell did I get myself into?"
He was hired on as a full-time firefighter in the Pleasantview Fire Protection District in January 1986, but left there to join Brookfield nine months later.
"My heart was always in Brookfield," Duffek said.
Duffek served as the coordinator of the Brookfield Fire department's HAZMAT team, was the department's EMS coordinator and served for many years as union president.
"I know he's going to take this department and move it forward," Lenzi said during his parting words at the April 23 board meeting.
Leaving Brookfield, but not firefighting
While Duffek ascends into the chief's office in Brookfield, his predecessor says he is getting back into front line duty as a firefighter and paramedic.
Lenzi, 54, began working on a contract basis for Windy City EMS, a paramedic service hired to work events at Chicago White Sox games and at the United Center in Chicago.
And on May 1, Lenzi will begin working as a part-time firefighter in the village of Westmont.
"I still feel young at heart, and I want to get back into being a paramedic and firefighter at a hands-on level," Lenzi said. "I feel like a have a few good years left in me."
Lenzi was hired as a Brookfield firefighter in 1984 and was named chief in 2005 after the retirement of Fire Chief Charles LaGreco, who had served in that capacity for 11 years.
During his time as a firefighter, Lenzi earned recognition by being named one of a select few firefighter/paramedics chosen to be part of the DuPage County Felony Assistance SWAT Team. In 1996, he was awarded a Medal of Valor along with two other firefighters for rescuing a woman and child
As chief, Lenzi said his biggest accomplishment was working with the village's community and economic development department to rewrite the village code to require new residential and commercial construction to include fire sprinklers.
Lenzi for six years served as an officer, including president, of MABAS Division 10, a mutual aid task force involving more than a dozen suburban fire department to handle specialized incidents like hazardous materials spills and events that require large-scale responses.
He served as the division's training liaison chief and also served as part of the divisions Rapid Intervention Team, which can be called in to help rescue trapped firefighters.
Lenzi's beefed up Brookfield fire training, developing a program to gain access to buildings slated for demolition to do live fire training. After a series of floods, Lenzi also backed the creation of a Brookfield Fire Department water rescue team.
During his time as chief, the department also acquired three ambulances, two fire trucks, a rescue boat and a pair of utility vehicles. He also backed increased fire safety education programs in local elementary schools.
"I'm looking forward to the next phase of my life," Lenzi said.