Brookfield mourns loss of former fire chief

Charles LaGreco pushed for paramedic service, firefighter training

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By Bob Uphues


News of LaGreco's death was announced by President Kit Ketchmark at the start of the April 24 meeting of the village board. Those in attendance at the meeting observed a moment of silence in memory of Mr. LaGreco, who was 70 years old.

Mr. LaGreco came to firefighting as a second career, signing on in Brookfield in 1973 after five years as an industrial arts teacher in Cicero. And for many of his years with the village, Mr. LaGreco pulled double duty as a firefighter and chief building inspector.

But he never really gave up teaching. He moved his classroom to the firehouse, but he served as an instructor for new firefighters, making sure their training was up to snuff.

"He carried that education background into the fire service," said Capt. Edward Bermann, who signed on as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1975 and worked alongside Mr. LaGreco until the chief's retirement in 2005.

When Patrick Lenzi was named chief, succeeding Mr. LaGreco, the new chief said he spent an hour on the phone with his predecessor, who preached public service and communication.

"His message was to learn, to teach and to communicate," Lenzi said.

Mr. LaGreco, who lived in Brookfield and LaGrange Park from 1975 to 2006, talked about the importance of training during a 2005 interview with the Landmark.

"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," Mr. LaGreco said.

James Mann, the village manager who appointed Mr. LaGreco chief in 1994, called him "a go-getter who was dedicated to the community." Mr. LaGreco was hired after an internal search and was, according to Mann, "friendly, open and honest."

"He worked well with people within the department as well as other staff in the village," Mann said. "It was a loss for the community when he did decide to retire."

The Brookfield Fire Department was very different in 1973, when Mr. LaGreco was hired, than it is today. Mr. LaGreco had a lot to do with that change.

Early on in his career in Brookfield, Mr. LaGreco was part of the first-ever emergency medical technician class offered in Illinois and he maintained that certification until he retired.

In an interview with the Landmark upon his retirement, he noted that he'd delivered seven babies as a firefighter, the first on a snowy night in the 1970s, alongside John Johnson, who was a paid-on-call firefighter at that time.

Mr. LaGreco, was also instrumental in moving Brookfield from EMT service to paramedic service in the mid-1990s and, according to Bermann, was also a proponent of replacing the contract paramedic service the village employed from 1995 to 2003, with in-house staff firefighter paramedics.

From 1981 to 1994, Mr. LaGreco worked as the village's building inspector in addition to his role within the fire department. Prior to becoming a teacher, Mr. LaGreco worked construction during summers in Oak Brook and, according to Lenzi, he had a particular affinity for the job of inspector.

"He excelled in the building code/fire code area," Lenzi said. "The tradesmen always appreciated Charlie, because he could understand what they were talking about."

Mr. LaGreco is survived by his wife, Cynthia J. LaGreco (nee Ceretto); his children, Dana (Mike) Umbenhower and Ryan LaGreco; and his grandchildren, Anna and Dylan Umbenhower.

Visitation will be on Saturday, May 13 from 1 p.m. until the time of a 4 p.m. memorial service at Johnson Funeral Home, 3847 Prairie Ave. in Brookfield.

Memorial donations are appreciated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, P.O. Box 1000, Dept. 142, Memphis, Tennessee, 38101-9908.


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Reader Comments

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Arthur Flowers  

Posted: May 13th, 2017 12:01 PM

I have know Mr. LaGreco most of my life. He was instrumental in helping to secure my position at ComEd. Giving a reference without my request. I always admired him.

Bill Brandt from brookfield  

Posted: April 28th, 2017 4:40 PM

I lost one of my best friends or 40yrs , long time confidant and a great co worker

Robin Benoy  

Posted: April 28th, 2017 4:24 PM

My husband and I are saddened to hear of Chuck's passing. I have fond memories of practicing yoga alongside Chuck at Loyola Health Club several years ago. He was a delightful, interesting man. Our condolences to his family.

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