by Jennifer Yos
LANSING, Ill. (August 29, 2018) – What began simply as a thought that maybe on-call firefighting could be “something fun to do after work” ended up turning into a 31-year career—“the best career in the world!”—for Lansing’s Fire Chief Ken Verkaik, who retires September 4 after serving 31 years with the Lansing Fire Department.
In 1986, Verkaik began his Basic Firefighting training while simultaneously keeping his job as a mechanic. “Back then training was in-house at the fire station,” Verkaik explains. “Today, beginning firefighters go to a firefighting academy for training, like the one that Prairie State [College] offers.” Training, he points out, is continuous for firefighters throughout their careers; Lansing firefighters train every day in-house and are tested three times a year; they also must maintain their EMS (emergency medical services) licensing as paramedics.
After completing his year of basic training, Verkaik served Lansing as a paid on-call firefighter from 1987 to 1990, and thereafter became a full-time firefighter. His former career as a mechanic came in handy since back then firefighters were responsible for maintaining their own vehicles, such as oil changes. Verkaik’s mechanical know-how was often in demand by fellow firefighters. “Yeah, I was abused!” Verkaik jokes.
It was in those early years of firefighting that Verkaik faced one of the largest fires of his career, at Tire Town in Lansing. What did he learn from that experience? “That I had a whole lot more to learn!”
Some 20 years of firefighting experience later, in 2008, Verkaik was appointed Assistant Chief to Lansing’s Fire Chief Dan Gregorovik. At that time, there were two Assistant Chiefs, one for operations and one for training. Today the fire department has downsized and has one Deputy Chief. In 2015 Verkaik was appointed Fire Chief when Chief Gregorovik retired.
Reflecting on changes he has observed in firefighting techniques in the past 31 years, Verkaik says that it’s still basically “putting water on a fire,” but that computerization has greatly enhanced communications and accountability.
Reflecting on his upcoming retirement, Chief Verkaik says, “It’s been a great honor and privilege to serve for 30 years, and I am grateful for the men and women I’ve been blessed to work with.” He would like Lansing residents to know that “they have, in the Lansing Fire Department, the best, most dedicated men and women who enjoy serving them.”