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Deputy Fire Chief Named Waubonsee Featured Alumnus
Community colleges train close to 80 percent of the nation’s first responders. Many of these individuals then move up the ranks into administrative roles, including many local Waubonsee alumni. The latest Waubonsee alumnus to earn a public safety promotion is Thomas Greiner, of North Aurora, who was recently named Deputy Chief of the Aurora Fire Department (AFD). For this accomplishment and his decades-long commitment to public safety, Waubonsee is proud to name Greiner the college’s Featured Alumnus for June.
A graduate of West Aurora High School, Greiner actually came to Waubonsee before coming to his ultimate career decision. Right after high school, Greiner took a job as an auto mechanic and eventually enrolled in auto classes at Waubonsee to improve his skills. But even then, in the late 1970s, cars were becoming too computerized for Greiner’s liking.
Given that trend, Greiner shifted his focus to the criminal justice program, which at the time required an emergency medical technician (EMT) course. He ended up loving the course, and since he had some friends who volunteered at the North Aurora Fire Department at the time, he decided to do the same in 1982. Working his way through fire certification classes and training at Waubonsee, Greiner was hired by the Aurora Fire Department in 1989.
“When you’re a firefighter, you’re dealing with people in the worst time and circumstances, so you obviously would rather not have any calls,” Greiner said. “But the best part is being able to respond with the maximum amount of knowledge and skills to effect a more favorable outcome. Maybe you’re able to contain a fire to one or two rooms rather than an entire house. Maybe you’re able to save some valuables from a property or maybe you can alleviate some pain and suffering for people as you transport them to the hospital.”
Of course, the community values firefighters and EMTs in times of trouble but can sometimes underestimate all that is required of them during the more routine times.
“There are some misconceptions that we sit around and play checkers all day,” Greiner said. “There are so many other things we need to do — hydrant inspections, company fire inspections, building and vehicle maintenance, ladder and hose drills — we’re constantly training for those moments of crisis.”
The little downtime Greiner had early in his career, including the 48 hours off after a 24-hour shift, he used to teach fire science classes at Waubonsee.
“One of my former instructors had recruited me to teach, so I thought ‘OK, give me the stuff,’” Greiner said. “It didn’t work like that. While all the content was spelled out by state regulations and requirements, I had to produce all the handouts and visual aids. This was before PowerPoint, so I spent a lot of hours creating transparencies.”
Greiner also helped create what would become the college’s Associate in Applied Science Degree in Fire Science out of what had originally been just a handful of courses.
“We had to decide on the appropriate gen ed [general education] courses to round the degree out,” Greiner said. “We added psychology and sociology, classes that would help firefighters deal with people.”
Greiner earned the associate degree he helped develop in 1995. He then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in fire science management from Southern Illinois University and his master’s degree in public safety administration from Lewis University, which helped him earn an assistant chief job in 2008.
The AFD has three assistant chiefs, each with different areas of responsibility. Greiner served as the assistant chief in charge of support services, including the buildings and grounds of the city’s nine fire stations, equipment and special projects.
“When you’re able to see how your duties push the efforts of the people in the field, that’s satisfying,” Greiner said.
Greiner also finds community service satisfying, as evidenced by his involvement with the Exchange Club of Aurora. He is currently serving as president this year.
Whether it’s a role in a civic organization or his new role as deputy chief of the AFD, Greiner’s keys to success remain the same.
“I really try to focus on my position, do what I need to do and gain the respect of my peers,” Greiner said. “I don’t want to let anyone down. I don’t do what I do for the success; I do the right thing, and I think the success follows.”
Greiner’s family members are following his footsteps to success, footsteps that start at Waubonsee. His wife, Marsha, earned an associate degree last year, and his two daughters currently attend the college.
“Waubonsee is a great place to start or end an education, if that’s your goal,” Greiner said. “It’s a good value that has definitely worked well for me and my family.”