This article is from the November 2019 Edition of the Hillside Herald.
At the August 26th Village Board Meeting, Ken Carling, a 30-year veteran of the Hillside Fire Department, was sworn in as our Village’s new Fire Chief. The Hillside Herald interviewed Chief Carling to learn a little bit about the person who will lead one of the country’s top-rated fire departments.
Ken Carling grew up in Hillside. He is a proud graduate of Hillside Grade School and Proviso West. The Chief fondly reminisced about his Little League days played on a ballfield that is now the site of Hillside’s Progressive Life-Giving Word Cathedral; and nights playing hockey at Thiele Park on a frozen basketball court bathed in lights provided by the Eisenhower Expressway.
His passion for firefighting began when Chief Carling was just a kid, but really took hold once he became immersed in the TV show Emergency, a popular 1970’s TV show about firefighters and paramedics. The Chief grinned as he related how he was such a big fan he would race home after school just to catch the latest episodes.
In 1989 Ken’s dream career became a reality when he was hired as a Hillside “paid-on-call” firefighter. Five years later he became a full-time firefighter-paramedic in north suburban Lincolnwood but continued his “paid-on-call” Hillside duty. In 1997 he left his Lincolnwood position when he was promoted to a full-time Hillside firefighter. Now, the town he called home as a boy would be his to protect full time.
Around this same time Ken got married and soon a son and daughter followed. He realized education was the key to making a better life for his family. He squeezed in Triton College classes where he attained an Associate Degree in Applied Science: Fire Management. He then earned a B.S. degree in Public Safety Management from Southern Illinois University. Ken holds numerous Office of the State Fire Marshal certifications.
On a lighter note; Chief Carling professed he is a big Chicago sports fan. He enjoys golfing and has taken up fishing since he quit playing hockey about 5 years ago. He served as a coach for his son’s youth sports programs and is currently becoming more active in his church.
When asked about what his biggest highlight of being a firefighter was, Chief Carling did not hesitate to respond that it was when he and Hillside firefighter Dan Killian were among the first group of firefighters sent to New Orleans to aid in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005.
For 10 days Ken and other firefighters lived in tents on the campus of Holy Cross College in Baton Rouge, from there they would be assigned to different locales to relieve the local New Orleans firefighters. Ken and the other out-of-state firefighters assisted in rescuing people, boarding up abandoned homes and answering fire calls.
The destruction was so widespread that to this day it is hard for the Chief to fully explain what he saw. Ken stated, “It looked like a ghost town, and had a real eerie feeling about it.” While there, he also had the honor of sharing lunch at the same table with President George W. Bush. Ken was given the Humanitarian Service Medal for his Katrina relief efforts.
We then asked Chief Ken Carling what the best thing is about being a firefighter. The Chief was quick to say, “Besides helping people, the camaraderie that exists amongst firefighters is the best part. We are brothers and sisters who have each other’s back. There are not many jobs where your life depends on the quick actions of your fellow workers. We laugh and fight like family; celebrate each other’s good news and cry at the bad. No doubt, the bond of lifelong friendships that are formed inside the firehouse is the best part of being a Hillside firefighter.”
Our final question to the Chief was, do you feel pressure to maintain the department’s safety rating (Hillside is one of 270 fire departments out of 47,000 nationwide to have earned a Class I ISO rating, which is the highest rating awarded)? Chief Carling confidently answered, “The men and women who serve Hillside as firefighters/paramedics are professionals who take great pride in ensuring that they are providing the very best care for all residents, businesses and visitors in the Village of Hillside. We will never stop seeking ways to make improvements within our fire department and always with an eye on keeping this prestigious honor. I assure you that when a Hillside resident phones 911, the firefighters/paramedics that answer your calls for assistance will be the most caring professionals in the business which is why we will remain one of the top-rated fire departments in the nation.”
Fire Chief Ken Carling… a hometown kid who fulfilled his lifelong dream… congratulations Chief!