Evanston Firefighter Retires After Record 31 Years Of Service

Libby Nelson

By Libby NelsonThe Daily Northwestern

When Evanston Fire Department Shift Chief Ken Dohm began his career with the department in 1975, he still listed his parents’ house as his home address and earned just $12,000 a year.

Since then, Dohm, 54, has delivered three babies, rescued a pregnant woman and witnessed the death of a fellow firefighter. Now he is retiring after 31 years with the department and 16 years as a shift chief.

Cpt. David Arreguin was sworn in to replace Dohm as shift chief after the retirement ceremony Monday afternoon.

Dohm’s ceremony most likely will be one of many as the fire department prepares for a big turnover, Cpt. Art Miller said. Another retirement ceremony was held only a few weeks ago.

The department expanded in the late 1970s when it began hiring paramedics for its emergency medical service. Now many of those firefighters are preparing to retire – a dozen might do so sometime this year. That number will likely triple in the next few years, Miller said.

Most firefighters stay with the department for at least 20 and often 30 years, but shift chiefs typically stay in their job for five to seven years, Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said.

During a brief speech at the ceremony, he said Dohm’s 16-year stint was probably a record for the department.

Sticking with firefighting seems to take a certain personality, Dohm said.

“There are gut-check times in this job when you’re racing into a building, and you feel the heat around your face, in your ears, and you still go in farther,” he said. “It tests your mettle right away.”

Berkowsky, the last of the nine chiefs Dohm has worked with, said he will remember Dohm’s professionalism.

“He’s calm under stress, friendly and personable,” Berkowsky said. “He helped a lot of (new firefighters) get acclimated to the job. They’d develop a comfort level, and then they’d work better.”

Dohm joined the department on a quick decision. After a failed tryout for the Kansas City Royals, he took the fire department test and applied to technical school at the same time. The test results and his school acceptance arrived the same day.

“I picked my career right there,” Dohm said. “I think I made the right choice.”

Dohm began as a firefighter and worked as a captain before becoming a shift chief. He also is a certified paramedic.

Firemen in the audience spoke during the ceremony, sharing anecdotes about the first time they met Dohm. One said firefighters on Dohm’s shift were nicknamed “Kenny’s guys.”

Arreguin, who will replace Dohm, received his new badge and status immediately after the department honored his predecessor.

Both men received standing ovations. Arreguin thanked Dohm for his help and his family for supporting a fireman’s difficult schedule.

“Ready or not, I guess here I come,” Arreguin said.

Reach Libby Nelson at [email protected]