Shipp's tenure as Bureau fire chief has brought remarkable improvements
BUREAU — Tim Shipp has dedicated his life to the village of Bureau.
He served 15 years as village president. He is currently serving his second stint as a village trustee and has put in 11 years total in that role.
And this year marks his 43rd at the Bureau Fire Protection District. For 40 of those years, he’s served in the top position as fire chief.
While the hours of work he’s put in would be enough to exhaust anyone, Shipp said there is just something in his mind that tells him he needs to be of service to the community where he’s lived in his whole life.
How he became a firefighter
Shipp was only a young boy when he knew he wanted to be a firefighter. In 1976, at the age of 18, he pursued his boyhood dream and signed on with his hometown’s fire department.
After less than a year of being with the department, he was elected captain. A year after that, he was again promoted to assistant chief. And finally, in 1979, he accepted the white hat and took on the role as chief.
It’s a position he takes seriously and has served wholeheartedly the past four decades.
Shipp’s strong leadership skills and fresh vision for the department was just what it needed to turn around its iffy reputation back then.
With a small annual budget of only a couple of hundred dollars, the department was unable to afford high-quality equipment. The firefighters used fire trucks from the 1950s, and firefighters were forced to fundraise for reliable fire equipment.
“If anybody had a fire, they’d call you the basement savers,” he said, laughing, as he looked back at that time.
“Most fire departments had a lot better equipment than we could ever afford back then.”
Shipp focused on ways to build the department’s budget over time. One of the key decisions he made to better the bottom line occurred in 1983 when his department asked voters to approve changing Bureau from a fire department to a fire district.
“It was hard for people to change. A lot of your elders back then thought we should just cover the city, whereas we wanted a district so we could create extra funding for the department and help protect the surrounding area,” he said.
Despite some backlash, voters ultimately saw the need for the change and approved the proposal. Shipp considers the passage of that referendum one of his greatest accomplishments.
Today, the department is operating on a healthy $65,000 annual budget.
Over the years, the Bureau Fire Protection District has also been the recipient of some pretty generous grants under Shipp’s direction. In 2006, the district received a $233,000 grant to help with the purchase of a new fire engine and equipment. In 2014, the district received another grant of $215,000 that allowed for the construction of a storage building for its equipment at the former Leepertown Grade School, which is where the district is headquartered today.
“I think now most every fire department has respect for us. They call us for a lot of mutual aid. I think that was one of the biggest things we wanted to overcome, and we have overcome,” he said.
Looking back on his career
Over his 43-year firefighter career, Shipp has responded to thousands of calls. The exact number is unknown, but there’s a couple of calls that stick out to him, one being the Euclid Chemical Fire that broke out in 2010. Bureau was called for mutual aid, and Shipp spent 44 consecutive hours on scene assisting.
The other disaster was when a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire near Tiskilwa in 2011. Shipp said he clocked 48 straight hours at that scene running operations.
“There has been some big ones over the years. They’re all different. Every one you go to is a different fire. No two are the same,” he said.
‘No firefighter knows it all’
Shipp said the key to success over the years has been his ability to change with the times and hear people out.
“I’ve always taken the stance that if somebody knows something more than I do, come and tell me. I’ll be more than happy to listen to you. You just can’t say, ‘I wear the white hat. What I say goes.’ It doesn’t work that way,” he said.
The advice he instills in the young firefighters is that there is no firefighter who knows it all.
“Believe me, I’ve been doing this 43 years, and I don’t even know a part of it,” he said.
Although every fire is different, Shipp goes into them all with the same goal. That is to bring every firefighter home when the call has been answered.
“Knock on wood, over the years we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had minor injuries, but we’ve never had anybody seriously hurt. That’s one of my biggest pluses. I’ll let something burn down before I risk putting one of my firefighters in harm’s way,” he said.
Being 100 percent dedicated to his work and community, there’s only one regret Shipp has — that his service has taken precedence over his family in many cases.
“That’s the biggest regret I have with this job,” he said.
“But I’m not one who can sit at home while my neighbor is having a heart attack. I want to be there and try to help the community as best as I can. I’ve lived here all my life, and I want things to be on the up and up, and I’ll do what I can to make sure they are that way.”