Fermilab says good-bye to Fire Chief Steinhoff, welcomes Chuck Kuhn

Fire Chief Jack Steinhoff and Battalion Chief Chuck Kuhn shake hands at Steinhoff’s retirement party on Friday. Photo: Joseph Piergrossi

Jack Steinhoff came to work at Fermilab as a fireman in August 1975, when the fire station was in the Village, and he was here when the fire station was built two years later at its current location on Site 38. Since then, he has put out fires, rescued people from accident vehicles and pulled employees out of elevators.

Now Steinhoff, who has served the last 18 years as the laboratory’s fire chief, is retiring. His last day is today.

Current Battalion Chief Chuck Kuhn will take over for Steinhoff.

“Jack’s done a great job,” said Jeff Irvin, Business Services Section Head. “He’s brought stability to the department, upgraded our equipment and shown a lot of dedication and service to the lab.”

Steinhoff is responsible for replacing many of the department’s fire apparatuses, including three pumpers and a grass-fire truck. He also established Automatic Aid, a mutual aid agreement between the Fermilab Fire Department and those of Batavia and Warrenville to assist each other in emergencies.

As Fermilab fire chief, he’s also had to deal with safety matters peculiar to an institution that whips subatomic particles around beneath the prairie soil.

“There aren’t many places that have a tunnel 350 feet underground,” he said.

Steinhoff pushed for the installation of an emergency elevator in the MINOS detector hall, which extends 350 feet below ground, adjacent to the main elevator. They call it the Steinhoff Suite.

“The first thing is to protect the people,” Steinhoff said. “After that, you worry about the experiments, the buildings and the equipment.”

Chuck Kuhn plans to continue Steinhoff’s work keeping the lines of communication open between the Fire Department, FESS and the surrounding communities. He becomes fire chief after working for 10 years as battalion chief and 21 years at the laboratory.

“We’re here for anyone anytime and will help out anybody that we can,” he said.

He’ll continue his current campaign to educate the public about fire safety. That includes organizing the yearly field trip children make to the fire station during DASTOW and the firemen’s annual day-care visit during Fire Prevention Week.

“Anything we can do for safety is near and dear to my heart when it comes to public education,” he said. “The kids are fun to be around, and it’s very rewarding to be able to educate both kids and adults on safety.”

Kuhn appreciates the way Steinhoff has helped bring up Fermilab’s Fire Department since it was a small building in the once-tiny Village.

“He’s gotten us great equipment and has in general improved the department,” he said. “We’re all grateful for his efforts.”

Steinhoff says he plans to enjoy life during retirement, and he’s glad to be going out on a high note.

“There’s a right time when people should retire,” he said. “I’m retiring out while I’m still at the top of my game.”

Leah Hesla