Fire chief celebrates one year back at Washington Fire Department

Nick Stroman
Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn returned to the Washington Fire Department a year ago, after serving 22.5 as an East Peoria firefighter.

Last year, Mike Vaughn only had one day to enjoy his retirement from the East Peoria Fire Department.

City officials threw him a retirement party July 31, 2008, but the next morning, he had to report for duty as the new fire chief in Washington.

It is now a year later, and Vaughn said he has settled into his new leadership position.

“The overall attitude of the department and the welcome I’ve received from the community has been great,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn was formerly a firefighter in Washington for five years before leaving to serve 22.5 years for the East Peoria Fire Department. He was chief in East Peoria for three years.

Of the final three candidates for the Washington chief job, Vaughn was the only one from the Central Illinois area.

“I really think that helped that I was local,” he said. “I’ve had friends up here for the last 28 years or so, and it’s good to see my friends again.”

Vaughn’s wife was also born and raised in Washington, and they are building a house in the city, which will be completed in a few weeks.

“Between the department and the house, I’ve been pretty busy. I still don’t believe it’s going to be done so soon, but I’m sure it will feel nice,” Vaughn said.

“Lots of people are building houses up around here, so it must be a good place to live,” Vaughn added.

Vaughn said he set many goals for the Washington Fire Department when he stepped into the position, and he feels like many have been accomplished already.

“I wanted to increase membership, and we’ve gained about 10 people since I’ve been here and have four applicants waiting now. I think the overall attitude of the department has improved, too,”

Vaughn said.

However, Vaughn said a lowlight for the department was the death of two firefighters, Dana Frantz and Paul Lukavich, on the same day in April.

Frantz was a long-time member of the department, while Lukavich was a retired chief of the Washington Rescue Squad and member of the Tazewell County Firefighters Association.

Washington Fire Department vehicles led funeral processions for them two days in a row.

“It was literally the same day and 45 minutes apart that we heard about them passing. It was really hard on the department,” he said.

Vaughn added he had a mission to improve relations with the city and other governmental

agencies.

“You’re always going to keep looking for ways to improve that, and it starts with getting us more involved in the community,” Vaughn said. “That builds bridges between the different agencies. I still have some plans in the hopper that haven’t been ironed out.”

Some of those plans could include future growth for the department, but Vaughn said not to expect major changes anytime soon.

“We have growing pains, but it’s the good kind. Our current station is fine for what we do, but I’m looking into coming up with a strategic plan for the future,” he said. “It is stuff that’s years down the line, though, and I don’t think we have any immediate concerns at this time.”

Recent open houses at the department have been a success, and Vaughn said he plans to continue holding those.

A mix of current and former Washington firefighters has also been working on renovating the city’s first motor-driven fire truck.

“There are lots of guys working their butts off on that way into the night. Many businesses and people from the community have also donated materials, money or labor, and that’s been going well,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn added they hope to have the antique truck refurbishment completed in time for both the homecoming parade and the opening of a new Firehouse Pizza in Washington in September.

“Knock on wood that we’ll have it for the parade. Anyone wanting to donate can still contact the fire department, and we’re going to have a plaque recognizing everyone who helped,” Vaughn said.

It is a struggle for Vaughn to compare his first year as chief in Washington to the two decades he spent at the helm in East Peoria.

“This was a great opportunity and that’s why I took it. East Peoria was full-time and paid, and here it’s volunteer, so it’s going to be different no matter what. It’s hard to compare, so I won’t,” Vaughn said.