New Fire Chief
Dave Savone took the oath of office last week, becoming the 13th chief in the history of the Merrill Fire Department.
Savone credits his then-two-year-old daughter with leading him to the fire service profession more than 30 years ago. She enjoyed visiting the fire station across the street from their Carpentersville, lL home with her mother. One day, Dave walked over to the fire station to find his wife and daughter, and discovered that he knew a lot of the guys on the department. It wasn’t long before they’d talked him into signing up as a paid-on-call firefighter.
After a couple of years of paid-on-call work Savone decided that fire services was his calling.
“I realized this would be my life’s work,” he said.
He enrolled in school to get the necessary training to be a full-time firefighter. That led to a 28-year career with the Village of Hoffman Estates, IL Fire Department.
The Village of Hoffman Estates has a population of more than 50,000. The fire department covers an area of 22 square miles from four fire stations with more than 90 firefighters on staff. The department averages 5,500 calls per year. The coverage area includes over 5,500 acres of forest reserve.
Savone retired as a captain/paramedic from the Hoffman Estates Fire Department in 2011. The department was downsizing and offered a voluntary separation plan to some of its more senior members, including Savone.
By that time, Savone had begun teaching courses for firefighters at nearby Harper College.
“The idea was to keep my fingers in fire service, which has been such a big part of my life forever,” he said.
In retirement, he also began teaching incident command classes for the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. The classes prepare students for large disaster incident management. The University of Illinois sent him to the National Fire Academy for training to teach other classes as well.
However, Savone decided he’d still like the opportunity to lead a fire department. A random search turned up the chief opening in Merrill. His previous experiences in northern Wisconsin centered around Boy Scouting, at camps near Birnamwood and Rhinelander.
“I saw Merrill was hiring a fire chief, and when I read the job description, I said, ‘this is me’,” Savone said. “I didn’t know Merrill that well but I had general knowledge of the area.”
After receiving notice that he would be interviewed for the position, Savone took a closer look at Merrill.
He was impressed with the Merrill Fire Department’s history of being a full-time department since 1889, and also the obvious pride that department personnel take in the community.
“I was amazed at how much the firefighters are involved in the community and I believe it’s important to be involved in the community,” he said.
As Savone takes the reins from retiring chief Bob Odegard, the most obvious challenge is the impending construction of a new fire station. The city has purchased the property and plans to start construction in the spring.
In Hoffman Estates, Savone took a lead role in the development of a new $7.3 million fire station. He was also in charge of grant writing for the Hoffman Estates Fire Department for a few years and was successful in securing some large grants for the department.
Serving as the head of various divisions in the Hoffman Estates Fire Department, Savone gained experience in writing budgets. He’s no stranger to crafting tight budgets, as he was allowed zero budget increases the last few years there.
Coming from the outside, Savone’s first order of business is to understand how the department operates.
“I have to learn what the traditions are and figure out the landscape, so to speak,” he said. “I’ve been amazed at how receptive (fire department staff) are of someone taking an outside look at their fire department.”
Starting work on Dec. 3, Savone has Odegard as his guide for the first month on the job. Odegard’s retirement goes into effect Jan. 1, after 33 years with the Merrill Fire Department.
“Bob’s been showing me all the ropes of Merrill,” Savone said. “The city had a good chief and he’s going to be missed here.”
Savone believes in empowering firefighters as stakeholders in the department.
“The Village of Hoffman Estates really engaged firefighters and the chiefs really believed in giving firefighters the authority and responsibility to take care of stuff. The upside to that is it helps give your newer guys the ability to learn to be leaders,” he said.
Savone’s initial impressions of the Merrill community have been very favorable.
“I can say nothing but good things about Merrill right now,” he said. “The people of the community are unbelievable, just good folks.”
Merrill will be the last stop on Savone’s career path, he said.
“This will be the last job I have,” he said. “I’m going to stay here as long as I feel I’m contributing to the fire department of Merrill.”
Outside of his career, Savone has been very involved in the Boy Scouts for 36 years. Savone is an Eagle Scout, as is his son. And he now has a grandson in the Cub Scout program. Over the years Savone has served as a scoutmaster, district chairman, council executive board member and a council executive committee member. He has been involved in the Wood Badge adult leader program for 20 years. He currently serves as the regional Wood Badge coordinator for 16 states and is part of the national Boy Scout training team.
“Scouting is my passion,” he said.