July 04, 2012 - Residents are invited to honor the memory of a man who helped make the Addison Township Fire Department the highly-respected and professional organization it is today.
Former Addison Fire Chief Robert Schulz in his gear. (click for larger version)
On Saturday, July 7 beginning at 12 noon, Addison Fire Station #1 (4026 Forest St.) will host a memorial service and luncheon for the late Robert Edward Schulz, who served as fire chief from 1990-94.
"He helped build the foundation for where we're at right now," said Fire Chief Jerry Morawski, who was actually the last firefighter hired by Schulz 18 years ago. "He fought a lot of battles and as time went on, we won the war."
Schulz passed away May 13, 2012 in Florida. He was 69 years old.
An Addison resident from 1975-96, Schulz joined the department as a volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in 1985.
"He felt a need to give back to the community," said his wife of almost 40 years, Kathy Schulz. "Once he got involved, the bug bit him and he just really loved it.
"He loved the adrenaline rush when the beepers went off and never knowing exactly what you were going to find when you got (to a scene). He loved the challenge of coordinating everything and having to make those split-second decisions."
Leonard resident Dan Sutherby, who spent 33 years with the fire department, remembered Schulz as "very dedicated" and "very excited" about his job.
"He was probably the main reason I stayed on as long as I did," he said. "He talked me into going to fire school with him."
Morawski explained how Schulz worked very hard as chief to help transform the rural agency from a "good old boys club" to a modern department governed by a written set of policies and procedures.
"He was probably one of the first chiefs that really fought for that – stability and standardization," he said. "He advocated progress in all aspects, from building (up) the department to making sure we had enough revenue."
"I think he was an excellent chief," said Sutherby, who started as a junior fireman at age 16. "His Number One goal was to have everybody get the best training possible, so we could do the best job possible. He also tried to make rules and regulations that were fair for everybody."
Kathy noted how her husband truly enjoyed and appreciated working with surrounding fire departments.
"He really thought that was a plus, to have mutual aid (pacts) in place, because we were such a small township," she said. "A lot of times he worried about not having enough people to cover the day shift."
Sadly, Schulz's tenure as chief was cut short when the township board voted to not renew his employment contract because he failed to foster a "harmonious relationship with some board members," according to an article in the March 30, 1994 edition of the Oxford Leader.
Some locals will tell you it was politics, not performance or anything else job-related that led to his exit.
"He was fighting the battle, so to speak, for progress," Morawski said. "Unfortunately, he got caught up in the politics. Some people thought he was going too far, too fast. You know how that bites you sometimes."
Whatever the squabbles and issues of the day were in the early 1990s, they've clearly not stood the test of time.
What has survived and thrived are Schulz's efforts and vision, which have made a lasting and positive impact on both the department and the community it faithfully serves.
For that, Morawski believes Addison firefighters and residents owe Schulz a debt of gratitude. "He deserves our thanks," the chief said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.