Giannelli departs as head of fire house

Chief's retirement ends a nearly 40-year career, the last 33 of them with Hinsdale FD

John Giannelli wanted his final shift with the Hinsdale Fire Department to feel like his first.

"I found my old pillow and blanket," said the 33-year veteran of the force, who retired as chief on Friday. "I cooked dinner and stayed the night. Went on my last call. I made (the crew) breakfast. It brought back memories of how I started."

It was a poignant conclusion to a career spent in the fire service.

"It's all I've done since I was 18 years old," remarked Giannelli, who started in LaGrange Park before coming to Hinsdale in 1991.

He rose through the ranks of lieutenant and captain, and in 2016 he was appointed to replace retiring chief Rick Ronovsky, who remains a good friend. Giannelli admitted stepping into the department's top role was a bit daunting, in part because he had not even done a tour as deputy chief.

But those under his command praised his approach to the job.

Firefighter Kevin Baker called Giannelli a role model.

"He led by example and always made you better in the end," he stated. "John has not only a been a leader to me but he'll always be a great friend."

Firefighter Michael Lorusso appreciated his outgoing chief's "willingness to go on calls, and that he was always engaged with the shift and was a true firefighter at heart even though he wore bugles."

Firefighter Nick McDon-ough said Giannelli's door was always open.

"He would always make time to listen if you needed to speak to him about anything. Whether you had a new idea you wanted to try or you needed advice on a personal matter unrelated to the fire house, he was always approachable and would talk through whatever you needed to see him about. Even if he was telling you, 'No,' he would always listen and give you his time first," he said.

Giannelli spoke to the close-knit nature of those who serve as first responders attacking fires or rescuing people from residential or road emergencies.

"My biggest group of friends are firefighters," he said.

The reality of retiring hits a little different than the concept in theory, Giannelli said.

"Everybody talks about retiring, but when the day comes, it's not easy," he said. "It's a whole lifestyle change."

Giannelli intends to keep his paramedic certifications current for the time being. For now he looks forward to more time at home (and in more tropical environs) and watching his three teen children excel on the lacrosse field.

"I just felt it was time to let someone else take over and move on and see what's next," he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean