By Anna Hughes

Since 1972, Dick Dufort has called Elmhurst home. And that’s something he’s very proud of.

His colleagues joke that his car stops running when it reaches the Elmhurst city limits. He grew up here. He raised his family here. He, his mom, and his adult children all live within a few minutes of each other. He stops and talks to people on the street most times he leaves the house, partly because he knows everyone, but also because he’s just a friendly guy.

He loves Elmhurst and the people in it. That’s why it was such an honor when he got a call one Friday afternoon in April asking him to serve as interim Elmhurst Fire Chief. Itt was even more exciting when, after an internal interview process with city officials, he officially earned the job. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for a man who wants nothing more than to serve the city he loves so selflessly.

“My entire life, I’ve always been a helpful person … I grew up in this town. You know, I’ve never left this town, and I feel the need to serve the town,” Dufort said.

Dufort remembers his first interaction with the fire department vividly. There was a blaze in the wooded area across from his childhood home (where his mom still lives today). Naturally, all the neighbors ran out of their houses, concerned about where it could go. But the firefighters weren’t. To them, it was just another day on the job.

“All I remember is the fire department coming up, getting out doing their business, picking up their stuff, and then just leaving. So it was like, calm, cool, collected. They got there, they did their job. Once they got done, they got in the rig and they pulled away,” Dufort said.

Oath of Office: Newly hired firefighters give their “Oath of Office” at City Hall in early February.

After high school, Dufort wanted to be a police officer, like many kids his age at the time. But, that memory of the stoicism and bravery displayed by the firefighters that day stayed with him. In 1993, he officially joined the fire department thanks to influence from a childhood friend, Jeff Hayes, and Jeff’s brother-in-law, Mike Kopp. Both were already in the department.

Since joining, Dufort said he has been lucky enough to work every position. After 19 years as a blue shirt, he was promoted to lieutenant in 2012, then battalion chief in 2017, and finally chief in 2023.

“You can sit there all day and say you know, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to be the chief, I want to be the chief.’ But, you know, that path is different for everybody. And not that I necessarily saw myself as the chief, but I definitely wanted to be in a leadership role,” Dufort said.

As the department leader, he spends his days at city hall. It’s the first time in a long time that he works a normal day shift. He’s used to the 24-48 schedule required of all firefighters (24 hours working and then 48 hours off). It’s the kind of schedule that deters a lot of young people from joining the team. Dufort assures anyone considering this career path that the pros outweigh the cons.

“Young people right now, they don’t want to be there for 24 hours. What they don’t realize is, you know, is it is a very conducive schedule for doing other things … I think if they spent some time talking to our younger guys, they would realize it’s a pretty nice job,” Dufort said.

There are 44 people on staff at the Elmhurst Fire Department including a chief, a deputy, three battalion chiefs, and six lieutenants. The rest are firefighters and one administrative assistant. The youngest firefighter is 22. Dufort said the hardest thing about being in charge is navigating the behaviors and expectations of younger generations. Growing up with a father in the Marines, he’s always been “old school” and a rule follower.

“I have to look at things different now as a chief, to try to motivate those type of people or try to appeal to them in their beliefs and what they think is right for the fire department,” Dufort said. “What’s nice about it is [the young firefighters] bring a fresh attitude … That’s what’s exciting to me, is to see that enthusiasm coming out in this younger generation now.”

Dufort is the perfect person to show them the ropes. He said he’s been fortunate enough to see and do a lot in his career, so he feels prepared every day to lead this team. It’s also why his family feels safe with his work.
“[My wife’s] always been, ‘I don’t worry about you so much because I believe you know what you’re doing,’” he said.

He looks forward to shaping the next generation of firefighters, especially at such a historic and prestigious department. He is also proud each day to keep the Elmhurst community safe. He knows the weight of his role, and he’s happy to be a positive influence on not only his team but also the entire Elmhurst community that he cherishes so deeply.

“There’s not one part of this town that I’d ever be afraid of my children going to. And I think that speaks volumes,” Dufort said. ■

Chief Dufort along with Deputy Chief Steve Reynolds and Battalion Chief Bill Oeffling