The new year marks new leadership at the helm at the Peoria Fire Department.
A badge pinning ceremony Tuesday made official Tony Ardis' promotion to fire chief. Also honored were Assistant Fire Chief Jim Bachman, Division Chief Shawn Sollberger, Battalion Chief Stephen Rada and Captain Bobby Anderson.
Ardis, who assumed the position after Ed Olehy, retired in December said more public education and outreach are among his top priorities.
"The majority of Peoria citizens, at no fault of their own, really have no idea exactly what it is these men and women do on a daily basis. These men and women aren't just firefighters — they're paramedics, they're underwater divers, they're hazmat technicians, they repel from tall buildings."
Ardis said the department wants to meet with "any organization that will have them." He says they'll regularly visit neighborhood associations and partner with local schools, in part by reinstating a fire prevention poster drawing program.
All five men who received promotions are graduates of Peoria high schools, Ardis noted, adding he hopes to inspire current students.
"This isn't a pipe dream," he said. "It's not unrealistic. You're looking at five people now who are in command positions of the Peoria Fire Department that all were in their shoes."
Division Chief Sollberger, a third generation firefighter, reiterated that sentiment.
"I didn't envision this for myself. I always just loved being a firefighter and working hard. I'm really just kind of taken aback — that's probably the best way to describe it."
In addition to outreach efforts, Assistant Chief Bachman said the new command team will focus on accreditation and continuing to provide quality service with the sometimes limited resources available to the department.