During its more than four month effort to find a new fire chief, the village of Oak Park looked at some 30 candidates from 11 states. In the end, though, they found their man right in their own back yard. On Monday, Deputy Chief of Operations William M. Bell, a 25 year veteran of the Oak Park fire department, was appointed fire chief, effective immediately.
Bell, a native Oak Parker who attended Longfellow School and Oak Park and River Forest High School, said his selection as Oak Park fire chief was a "career dream come true."
"To become chief of the department where you have spent your entire career is immensely rewarding," said Bell. "I am excited and ready to go."
Bell joined the Oak Park department as a firefighter in April 1980 following a hitch in the Marines as a military police officer. As he rose through the ranks from fire fighter to deputy chief, he undertook numerous job responsibilities, including paramedic, fire investigator, inspector, and training officer. Along the way Bell, who holds an accounting degree from Dominican University and who is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration from DePaul University, forged a reputation as a forward thinker who helped modernize the department and bring in notable innovations.
Village Manager Carl Swenson's comments Monday reflected both confidence in Bell and satisfaction that he came from the ranks of the Oak Park department. Saying that Bell "knows the department and knows the village," Swenson called him "a perfect fit."
"Throughout the selection process Bill Bell demonstrated that he was the ideal candidate," Swenson said. "Not only did he have the experience and the expertise, but he also offered the added benefits of having played a major role in building the fire department we have today."
"The selection of Bill Bell is a tribute to the professionalism of our fire department," said Swenson. "It was gratifying in the end to discover that the best candidates were right here."
Swenson credited Bell for his hand in moving the OPFD from a traditional firefighting force to one with an increased focus on emergency medical services. In addition, Bell played a leading role in preparing his department to deal with the widest range of emergency situations possible, including hazardous materials incidents and natural and man-made disasters. As part of that effort, Bell has been a strong supporter of training programs that have earned the Oak Park Fire Department national accreditations for readiness.
Another of Bell's major contributions to the department was his work to initiate the nine municipality Mutual Assistance Box Alarm System (MABAS) special rescue team. Bell served as MABUS's first coordinator, and developed its policies, procedures and training programs.
The search for Chief Gerald Beeson's replacement had commenced soon after he announced his intent to retire by year's end back in July. After more than 30 candidates initially applied, the field was winnowed down to 17 candidates from 11 states. Six of those candidates were eventually invited to participate in a three-day selection process between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2. All six candidates were interviewed separately by two panels of senior village executives on Dec. 1. Three finalists then sat through follow-up interviews on Dec. 2.
Responding to his appointment Monday, Bell praised the men and women who comprise the department he's spent his entire career serving, as well as the village they serve.
"We have a great department," he said, "and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead such an incredible group of individuals, and work in a community that appreciates our work and dedication to the job."