Leyden fire chief enters second retirement
Tom Rafferty ended his stint as Leyden Fire Protection District Chief on Aug. 30. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:22PM
FRANKLIN PARK — Tom Rafferty’s last retirement lasted 34 days. This time he’ll consider at least taking a summer off.
Rafferty hung up his helmet on Aug. 30, resigning as fire chief of the Leyden Fire Protection District after seven years. Not bad for a job he didn’t need.
“(Former) Chief Campbell talked me into it,” Rafferty said. “He was retiring and they had a pretty young staff here.” He laughed. “My wife was ready to kill me. I had announced my retirement.”
Rafferty was born in Chicago and moved with his family to Westchester at age 4. He attended Proviso West High School and found work as a foreman with the Chicago Transit Authority as a foreman in a repair division for buses, where both his father and grandfather had worked.
But fire fighting has run in his family for five generations, going back to Ireland. When there was an opening on the Westchester Fire Department, he applied. He ended up working there for 31 years, the last 15 as chief.
Rafferty started at the Leyden Fire Protection District as chief in February 2006. It was a bit different.
“Westchester had different challenges,” Rafferty said. “They had twice the personnel. It was a bedroom and office type of community. The buildings are all brick. The commercial is non-combustible and 90 percent sprinkler. The chances of a fire spreading are significantly smaller.”
Unincorporated Leyden Township, in contrast, has warehouses, factories and rail yards, any of which might have chemicals or hazardous materials.
In Westchester, Rafferty would prepare a budget and the village’s finance manager would look it over. In contrast, the Leyden Fire Protection District is its own taxing body. The chief has to figure out the annual levy and estimate revenues.
For the next six months, Rafferty will train his successor Kory Ryan in those skills.
Fire fighting has changed during Rafferty’s years on the job.
“When I first started, the fire coats had labels that said not for structural fire fighting,” Rafferty said. “We didn’t wear air masks. If you did, they called you lots of names.”
Extinguishing hazardous materials was riskier. “We just did it without knowing we were exposing ourselves to all sorts of dangers,” he said.
Medical training for fire fighters was much more limited.
“We went from ‘you call, we haul’ to almost a rolling emergency room,” Rafferty said. “Emergency medical technician came in about the time I started. That was the beginning of (the higher level) paramedic.”
After 38 years, Rafferty said all the calls “kind of blend together.” He recalls a fire at All Stars strip club that demolished the building. “That’s my only full loss.”
He also recalls a child who died from smoke inhalation at a house fire in Westchester. “That one sticks out in my mind.”
He’s also seems a little amazed by the way most people treat fire fighters.
“The odd thing is most people are glad to see us,” Rafferty said. “I’ve had people stand in a room that has been pretty much demolished and say, thanks for saving my house.”