Sollberger commits to a long run as Peoria's new fire chief
None of Peoria’s last four fire chiefs stayed in the position for more than two years. Shawn Sollberger says he intends to end that streak.
“God willing, as long as the City of Peoria and the community that I've sworn to serve wants me to be the fire chief, I will be here,” Sollberger said Wednesday after the city promoted him from interim chief.
Sollberger, 47, previously served as captain, battalion chief, division chief of operations, and assistant fire chief. A graduate of Peoria High School with degrees from Illinois Central College and Columbia Southern University, he has been with the PFD since April 1998.
“I'm still kind of taking it all in; it seems very surreal at this point. I'd like to lie to you and say that this is something that I've always wanted,” he said. “When you start off as a firefighter, you envision going on 911 calls, helping people in their worst moments — and it's a great profession.
“But when you morph into these roles, it's much different. It's very rewarding, just in a different and very positive way. You're affecting the community and the communities that surround you, and I look forward to coming to work every single day.”
In a statement announcing Sollberger’s promotion, City Manager Patrick Urich said the new chief’s time with the department and strong background made him the best choice for the position.
“We look forward to seeing him serve our community and lead the Peoria Fire Department with the highest standards of emergency service,” said Urich.
Sollberger follows former chief Jim Bachman, who retired on March 19. Bachman assumed the role the previous May following the departure of Tony Ardis, who was appointed to the position in November 2019.
Sollberger said his four-month interim stint prepared him to take on the challenges of the full-time role.
“Since March, the city manager gave me the ability to put my command staff in place the way that I envisioned it and in my humble opinion, I think we have done an extremely good job — and that's from the top down,” said Sollberger, sharing credit with assistant chief Rick Morgan, operations chief Tony Cummings, fire prevention chief Nate Rice, and training chief Roland Tenley.
“We're all young, and what the City of Peoria and the community is going to see — and they've already seen — is that we're going to be highly successful. We're going to provide a level of service that the City of Peoria has grown accustomed to, it's only going to be better. We're constantly going to be challenging ourselves to provide that high level of service to the citizens and to the community.”
Sollberger said one of the biggest concerns he hopes to address is attracting more people into the profession.
“There's challenges that morph and change basically almost on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “But that being said, going into this right now, it’s being able to recruit people to want to be firefighters, and it's not unique to our department. Retaining firefighters and keeping them wanting to be here in the City of Peoria, I think is extremely important to me and my command staff, and the firefighters that work for the City of Peoria.
"Once we can get through those types of things and basically hammer home the point of how rewarding this profession is, I think that we'll be able to address those pretty quickly.”
Sollberger’s annual salary will be $180,486.