Gary Bernard looks back on 1st year as Peoria Fire Department chief
Gary Bernard said he never intended to become the chief of the Peoria Fire Department, now it has been almost a year since he has been in the position.
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Chief Bernard said that he continued to rise through the ranks because he wanted to challenge himself when he felt like he was comfortable coasting.
“It was never the plan when I got hired. I just wanted to do a good job and not let my
teammates down through my whole career. And now that I'm here, it's pretty cool,” he said.
Chief Gary Bernard has been working for the Peoria Fire Department for almost 31 years and became chief on April 25, 2022.
He is the first chief in Peoria to go all the way through the academy and the ranks before receiving the position.
He has also won several awards for his strength and service, such as the Toughest Firefighter Alive twice, and the Aces of Hearts Leadership Award for coordinating an accident rescue.
However, Chief Bernard said camaraderie and the safety of his teammates have been the highlights of his career.
“All my folks went home every day. Never had anybody hurt, injured, killed,” he said.
Chief Bernard said he has decided to stay in the Peoria Fire Department for so long because there is something different and exciting everyday.
“When I got hired as a firefighter, I just loved being on a firetruck, running calls and helping people and being part of that team and being part of the solution,”
While he may not be on the fire truck responding to calls with a team anymore, Chief Bernard said he is now part of the city leadership team, where his job involves interacting with other city departments and officials for Peoria.
Captain of the Peoria Fire Department, David Arreguin, said that he believes Chief Bernard has developed a good sense of teamwork within the department.
“Sometimes when you get a visit from a fire chief, some people feel like, ‘oh no, something's going on.’ But I think Chief Bernard does a good job coming around, making visits and people are actually excited to see him. They look forward to it,” said Captain Arreguin.
Captain Arreguin has worked with Chief Bernard for almost 13 years, and now has a position as a public information officer in the department.
He said that the response to Chief Bernard’s promotion was generally very positive and well respected.
“I think a lot of people were excited and I know he's gonna take that position very seriously, like he's been doing for this last year. Everything he's ever done, he's taken it very seriously and has done a good job. So we're looking forward to it and we're excited,” said Captain Arreguin.
Battalion Commander for the Peoria Fire Department, Michael Moore, took time out of his last day before retirement to talk about Chief Bernard.
“I think in my personal opinion, I knew he would do well, but I think that he's exceeded what I thought he would accomplish in such a short time. Gary is invested in the department and the leadership and the managers,” said Moore.
Moore has known Chief Bernard since they went to the fire academy together about 32 years ago.
He said that Chief Bernard has an intense willingness to help other people, and brought up a story about when they used to carpool to school together.
“We would study for an hour in the car on the way to school, go to school for 10 hours, study for an hour on the way back home, and then go to his house and study for another two or three.
So he helped me through paramedic school. Didn't have to, didn't need to, and was just super happy to do it. He got it very easy, for me it was a challenge,” said Moore.
Chief Bernard said that he is extremely appreciative of all the support he has received in becoming the chief.
“One of the biggest thrills is the support I've been given from everybody. I mean, just everybody that sees me is generally happy for me and excited to see where we're going to go next,” said Chief Bernard.