As a young firefighter with the Hinsdale Fire Department nearly a quarter-century ago, Jon Carlson responded to a warehouse fire in Lombard.

"I remember how dark it was from the smoke and how hard it was to operate in that environment," Carlson said of his first large-scale incident.

But he also recalled the spirit of camaraderie and purpose that fueled his group's efforts.

"(I had) the feeling of being able to make a small difference in the outcome and being able to go in and do the task that we were assigned, search for the fire and relieve the crew that was already in there," he recounted.

Today as the department's second in command, Carlson said he's learned how vital that mutual support is.

"There are hero moments, but most of your work is being part of a good team," he said. "You all work together to turn a situation around and stop its unraveling."

He grew up on a dairy farm in northwest Wisconsin, adept at physical chores in an outdoor setting. He and his siblings received their allowance through shepherding.

"(My parents) provided the food for the sheep, and we could sell the lambs, and that was our money for working," he related.

Carlson earned his college degree in social work and psychology but felt stirred by a help wanted ad for firefighters in Hinsdale.

"Being able to help other people in emergency situations, working with my hands, thinking through and solving complex problems, and then working with a team of people are the things that drew me to (the job)," said the son of a nurse, whose wife, Jill, is an RN at AdventHealth Hinsdale Hospital.

Hired in 1998, Carlson served in various capacities over the years, including on the technical rescue team, as EMS coordinator and teaching CPR and fire safety at local schools.

Last year Carlson was promoted to deputy chief, a post he acknowledged involves "a lot more sitting at a desk" than responding to calls.

"It's a role where I can help make sure that the firefighters have what they need in order to perform their job," Carlson said. "It's very focused on fire prevention, so completing plan reviews for fire alarms and fire suppression systems."

He noted areas of advancement, from Hinsdale having one of the only thermal imaging cameras in the area when he started to most departments having them today.

"It helps us in rescue of people. It's also very useful in finding hidden fires in walls or ceiling, and making sure that the fire's out," he said.

The father of two enjoys remodeling and woodworking projects when home in Downers Grove. And Hinsdale has become like a second home.

"Its a unique community in the way that people want to protect it and see it thrive, but yet keep its small-town feel," he said.

Carlson feels good about his career choice.

"It's a fulfilling job where you get to make an impact on people's lives and help them in a crisis, and it's also a great opportunity to work with people who become your friends."

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean