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Zimmerman takes over as leader of East Peoria’s fire department

A new fire chief is officially on the job in East Peoria.

Acting chief Bobby Zimmerman took the oath of office Monday morning to formalize his promotion to the permanent position.

“It's very humbling, and it's an honor to be able to serve the men and women of the East Peoria Fire Department,” said Zimmerman, 39, who was joined by his wife and two sons for the swearing-in ceremony at East Peoria City Hall. “To have my family here to witness it, I'm just very blessed.”

A 17-year EPFD veteran, Zimmerman previously served as a lieutenant and as deputy chief. He takes over for former chief John Knapp, who left the department recently after a short stint on administrative leave earlier this year.

Zimmerman said that while he is eager and excited to begin his new role, he’s not yet ready to set immediate goals or expectations for improvement.

“It's a marathon and it's not a sprint, and we're not going to change the world today,” he said. “The East Peoria Fire Department has always been a great place, and we're just going to keep moving in that direction.”

Mayor John Kahl said he’s certain Zimmerman will make a great fire chief.

“Bobby's not only respected amongst his peers, but he carries that throughout city staff and everyone that's been involved in city operations during his entire career here. He's got a lot of leadership traits that stand out,” said Kahl, adding Zimmerman has been heavily involved with plans to build a new fire station along Centennial Road.

Zimmerman said building the new station is a “great step in the right direction” toward growing the department and meeting the needs of East Peoria residents.

“We're still dotting the I's and crossing the T's on the state grant paperwork, but hopefully we break ground this summer and then it's open in the fall at the latest of 2023,” said Zimmerman. “That will be staffed with four firefighter paramedics, just to lower our response times and continue to serve this community.”

Seth Mingus, the city’s commissioner of Public Health and Safety Department who oversees fire department operations, said promoting Zimmerman was an easy decision.

“Bobby approaches things with professionalism. He approaches things from the right angle. He has the ability to get people to do the right thing and he has ability to lead. That’s what made him the best candidate,” said Mingus.

Mingus said the department recently hired four new firefighters and hopes to hire more in the near future. Zimmerman said training young firefighters and developing future department leaders are among his top priorities.

“Training is the most important thing that we do,” he said. “We do have a lot of young leaders and we just have to make sure they're trained so we can all go home to our families once we're done working.”

Monday’s ceremony also saw 12-year veteran firefighter Phil Brown promoted to lieutenant.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.