Brookfield turns to seasoned leader as fire chief

James Adams becomes first in top job not promoted from within

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

After a 30-year career as a firefighter and fire chief in Westchester, James Adams is coming home to Brookfield.

Raised in Brookfield, Adams will step into the role of Brookfield fire chief on April 6, chosen from a field of seven final candidates, two of them internal. 

He replaces Fire Chief Mark Duffek, who retired in December after a 38-year career. Capt. Brian Baldwin had served as interim chief during the search for Duffek's successor.

"I'm really excited to get back there," said Adams, who attended St. Barbara School and Nazareth Academy and lived in Brookfield until the age of 23.

Adams will be the Brookfield first fire chief who was not promoted to the post from within. Ed Bermann, the retired longtime fire captain and departmental historian, told the Landmark that the village has had just eight fire chiefs in its history, all of whom came up through the ranks in Brookfield.

Village Manager Timothy Wiberg acknowledged that coming in from another department might present a hurdle for Adams, but said that the new chief's ties to the village will help.

"He grew up in town and understands the community, which will help smooth his transition into the role," Wiberg said.

He got his start in the fire service as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1988 and was hired full-time as firefighter in Westchester in 1990. He spent 18 years as a firefighter paramedic before being promoted to lieutenant in 2008.

Adams was promoted to chief in 2011 and said he was involved in Westchester's transition to a consolidated dispatch center, initiating electronic patient care reporting in Westchester before it was required by the state and strengthening health and safety policies at the village's two fire stations.

He said he also served as the fire department's grant writer as chief, with about $800,000 in grant funding being awarded for everything from a heavy rescue vehicle to radios.

"Money is hard to come by, so you need to get creative," Adams said. "Opportunities aren't going to find you, so you've got to go out and find them."

Wiberg said Adams' experience as a chief and his track record of initiatives in Westchester made him the top choice. All seven finalists were interviewed by Wiberg and Assistant Village Manager George Issakoo and separately by village of Brookfield department heads.

"He's had so much more experience leading department for many years, and has a lot of ideas for improvements he'll bring, such as modernizing technology and practices," Wiberg said.

Adams said he wasn't particularly looking for a change. But about a week after hearing of Duffek's retirement, he reached out to the former chief and to another friend, former Brookfield HR director Michelle Robbins before deciding to throw his hat in the ring.

"It was an opportunity that just fell in my lap at the right time," Adams said.

Adams has a bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University. He also is a former varsity and sophomore level football coach at St. Joseph High School at Westchester, and for the past five years has kept official stats at home games for the Chicago Bears, a job he took over from his late father-in-law, George Strnad, a Riverside resident who did that job for 35 years. 

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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