After more than 38 years on the job as a firefighter for the village of Brookfield, Fire Chief Mark Duffek quietly retired last month after serving the top job for the past 19 months.
Duffek’s last day on the job was Nov. 30; his departure was announced by Village Manager Timothy Wiberg at the village board’s Nov. 25 meeting.
“It’s time,” said Duffek in a phone interview with the Landmark. “It’s a good feeling to go out on top.”
In addition, the village will also soon be looking for a new human resources director. Michelle Robbins, who has held that job for the past 14 years, will be leaving on Dec. 6.
Truth be told, Duffek had eyed retiring a year ago at the end of November 2018. However, those plans were put on hold earlier last year when former Chief Patrick Lenzi announced he was leaving that April.
“I still love this job, and I felt I can do it in a different capacity if I was fortunate to be chosen,” Duffek said on the night he was sworn in as chief last year. At the time, he said he’d like to work as chief for five years.
But in recent months, the 59-year-old Duffek began to contemplate retirement. The decision was an emotional one for him.
“It’s sentimental; I’m a homegrown boy,” said the lifelong Brookfield resident, who along with his mother and son, a newly sworn in probationary Brookfield police officer, all still live in the village.
“I’m not leaving the area,” Duffek said. “I still love the town.”
Duffek started with the fire department in 1981 as a paid-on-call firefighter before being hired full time in 1986. He worked his way through the ranks, serving variously as the department’s HAZMAT team coordinator, EMS coordinator and union president.
Wiberg said Duffek informed him that he would retire just a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s was surprising and disappointing,” Wiberg said. “I’ll be sad to see him go.”
Capt. Brian Baldwin, an 18-year veteran of the Brookfield Fire Department, has been named interim fire chief. Wiberg said he will conduct a search that will be open to internal as well as external candidates.
He said he expects the search to take two to three months. Until a new chief is hired, there will be a vacancy in the ranks. If an internal candidate is named chief, a new firefighter will be hired. If the new chief comes from outside the force, staffing will otherwise remain the same.
Robbins, meanwhile, began working for the village in 2001 for the fire department and moved into the role of human resources director in October 2005. She nearly left the village in the spring of 2018, having reportedly accepted a job in another municipality only to be coaxed back into the fold by Village President Kit Ketchmark.
Her planned departure in 2018 was to have taken place amid a whirlwind of change inside village hall. Within the span of just a few months that spring, the village’s manager, planner, fire chief, public works director and its lone recreation staffer all left – some by choice, some not.
For new Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, hired that fall, Robbins became a valued source of knowledge about the inner workings of village hall.
“She was instrumental for me with her institutional knowledge,” Wiberg said. “I could depend on her loyalty and dedication to the village, which will not be easily replaced.”
Robbins said she is not leaving to take another position elsewhere.
“I’m going to spend time with family and travel — lots of traveling,” Robbins wrote in an email. “Working at the village has been a wonderful experience. While I look forward to this new chapter in my life, I will miss all the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure to work with these many years.”
There isn’t an obvious candidate to assume Robbins’ role, and a search for her replacement will follow the same general process as the search for a new fire chief, Wiberg said.