In the late 1980s, outside of Carbondale, Al Yancey thought he would be neighborly and assist the volunteer fire department in its struggle with wildfires. He saw the work firefighters put forward to keep the community safe, and stepped up to the plate.
“There were a rash of fires and the general feeling was to help out community. I wasn’t a firefighter at the time, but people all came together to help the farmers,” Yancey said. “One day it struck me, they needed help because they were an all volunteer fire department, so I went in to inquire about being a volunteer."
Yancey joined the Makanda Township Fire Department in 1988 and was soon noticed by fellow firefighter and future chief Ed Dirks.
“When I first met him, at even at his age, I said I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy is fire marshal for the state of Illinois some day,” Dirks said.
Yancey has not taken on that role, but in 2018, he hit several important milestones in the career of a fire fighter. He first celebrated 30 years to the fire service, 15 years as the chief of the Minooka Fire Protection District, and was appointed as a board member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs-Volunteer Combination Officers Section.
“I was sworn in three weeks ago and was elected through the national association election process,” Yancey said. “This is a great opportunity and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It’s a passion to see departments be successful and give them the resources to be successful.”
Yancey will advocate for and will assist both volunteer stations as well as combination stations — ones with paid and volunteer firefighters in the Great Lakes Division.
Once Yancey got his feet wet, he was given educational opportunities at the Makanda Township Fire Department, where he moved up the ranks and became the first paid chief in 2000 when Dirks retired. Dirks said Yancey went above and beyond for the station.
“It wasn’t easy. Fire departments are ranked for insurance from one to 10 and we were a one. With a lot of work done by Al, we got all of the way to a five which was unbelievable and unheard of for a fire station of our size. Better rank, better insurance,” Dirks said.
Dirks said Yancey also worked to get a tax increase for a new firehouse.
“I would like to see his name on the firehouse,” Dirks said.
Yancey applied for a job as chief in Minooka and was passed over, so he moved on to the Zoneton, Kentucky, Fire Protection District, where he was the first paid chief.
“I enjoyed the progress in Kentucky,” Yancey said. “They hired me to come in and organize things for daytime coverage. They needed forward momentum.”
Yancey stayed over a year at the Kentucky department before he got a job offer in Minooka in 2003. He said the move back to his home state was a positive one.
Although Yancey has education and appointments, he repeatedly said success was a team effort by not only the men and women who work with him at the Minooka department, but local and national departments as well.
Technology allowed Fire Inspector Rodney Bradberry to install systems to help firefighters make prompt and safe rescue decisions.
Yancey looked back on the years as chief in Minooka and said, “We are in forward momentum. It’s great to be a part of a team and contributed to the leadership services in our community.”