After 32 years of service to the Village of Brookfield, Fire Chief Charles LaGreco will take a deep breath on Friday and walk out the door of the Shields Avenue station for the last time?”at least in an official capacity.
On Oct. 7, LaGreco?”who has served the village as a firefighter, paramedic, chief building inspector, health inspector and fire chief?”is retiring. Starting his career with the village in 1973, he has seen Brookfield move from sleepy village to a modern suburb. In many cases, he was in the middle of that change.
Self-effacing, deliberate and devoted to whatever job he was called to perform for the village, LaGreco leaves crediting those around him.
“When I reflect back on what I consider to be an enjoyable job where we’re assisting people in need and helping people in times of disaster and medical need, I can simply say it was all about team,” LaGreco, 58, said. “I’ve been blessed with an incredible team of individuals who are very capable, cooperative and always leading people to say what a great job the department has done.
“I don’t know what it is to have a problem at work related to personnel.”
When LaGreco began his career as a firefighter in Brookfield back in the early 1970s, the problem was more like lack of personnel.
LaGreco became involved in the fire service after working alongside Oakbrook firemen doing summer construction work in the western suburbs. With their encouragement, he left his job of five years as an industrial education teacher in Cicero and trained to become a fireman.
Early in his career, LaGreco gravitated toward emergency medical technician (EMT) training and was part of the first EMT class ever offered in Illinois at Loyola University, a certification he maintains to this day.
As a Brookfield firefighter, he was part of a grassroots campaign to encourage ambulance training at the department, and the department soon landed its first ambulance?”a Ford station wagon equipped with a stretcher.
At that time Brookfield had two stations, one at 3839 Prairie Ave., now a parking lot for Johnson’s Funeral Home, and the other on Broadway Avenue. Three firefighters worked every shift?”two on Broadway and one at Prairie Avenue.
It was during that time that LaGreco delivered his first baby?”one of seven?”at a Brookfield apartment on a snowy winter night in the 1970s, with paid-on-call firefighter John Johnson at his side.
By 1981, just two years after the department’s new main station was built at Shields Avenue, LaGreco had been promoted to engineer and in 1985 was elevated to lieutenant. Around the time of his promotion to engineer, LaGreco was called on to step in temporarily as a building inspector. He ended up working that job for Brookfield for the next 13 years until he was named fire chief in 1994.
Using the Oakbrook Code Enforcement Department as his model, LaGreco focused village efforts on residential property maintenance and construction inspection, employing off-duty firefighters as his code enforcement team.
“We were aggressive,” LaGreco said, “and Brookfield started to take on a new face with the priority of code enforcement.”
In 1994, Village Manager James Mann appointed LaGreco fire chief, ending his days as a building inspector. According to Mann, LaGreco was the perfect candidate for the job.
“It was really a matter of trying to get the right personality,” Mann said. “We needed a person who could live with the situation we had in the village, providing services with the economic restraints we had.”
As fire chief, LaGreco stressed firefighter training and was the driving force behind the village adding full paramedic service both north and south of the railroad tracks. The force also continued to grow under LaGreco’s direction. He leaves a department with 24 full-time shift personnel and 15 paid-on-call firefighters.
“I wanted training to be a major issue for all personnel, and I wanted them to have the freedom to attend job-related schools to allow them to become stronger members of the organization,” LaGreco said.
LaGreco and his wife, Cyndi?”whom he met as a student at the Illinois State Teachers College?”plan on traveling and continuing their nearly weekly routine of participating in long-distance bicycling tours, a hobby LaGreco began around the time he was named chief. He also plans on spending time with his new twin grandchildren.
“You always hate to see someone like that retire,” Mann said. “But he needs his R&R. He gave his all to the community.”