Illinois Fire Marshal Matt Perez is retiring from the role after seven years in the post and a 37-year career working in a variety of public safety and law enforcement fields.
Perez said he appreciates the time he spent as the state fire marshal, saying that the various challenges he faced during his tenure made the fire-fighting community in Illinois stronger.
"Working together with the 14-fire service organizations to make our firefighters safer and more efficient has been very rewarding," Perez said Wednesday in an announcement he was retiring. "Although the COVID pandemic has been challenging, it has united us as a fire service community and reaffirmed that Illinois is home to the best fire service in the nation. I wish you all the best and I know you will all continue to accomplish amazing things."
He said the retirement of his wife from working as a guidance counselor in suburban Chicago and the exhausting nature of the job, which requires him to oversee more than 1,200 fire departments across the state, pushed him toward retiring.
"It's consuming to do it right and do it with all your heart," Perez said. "I just started to feel a little tired and there's no place in this job for someone who's starting to feel tired."
Perez will be replaced on an interim basis by former Springfield Fire Marshal Dale Simpson, who has been working for the Office of the State Fire Marshal since 2013. Simpson will take over for Perez on Tuesday.
Simpson spent 26 years with the Springfield Fire Department prior to moving into the state office, with the final year spent as the fire marshal. He had served as a firefighter and division chief of fire safety prior to becoming the marshal. He retired from the department in 2009.
Perez said he is proud of expanding what the office can do in terms of hiring more workers and getting the resources needed to protect people and property from fire-related incidents. He also feels proud of helping provide more resources to small and rural departments.
"When I was in Aurora, we were a career department," Perez said. "We were the second-biggest department behind Chicago and we had everything we needed. When I came down here, I found out quickly that not everybody was in the same boat as we were. I really wanted to dedicate our efforts to those that needed it the most, the volunteer departments, the smallest departments.
"They're the ones where (when) you see the ads for spaghetti dinners or pancake breakfasts, those aren't (just) social events, those are fundraisers to put gas in their trucks. That's how they operate."
Perez said the office is improving its efforts to complete state school inspections, adding that for the first time in its history all schools assigned to the department received a complete safety examination.
"What we have left is to work with the local fire departments that volunteered to do those inspections," Perez said. "Sometimes, they don't get completed. We'll work with them to do them or we'll take them back and do them ourselves next year. That's been a five-year effort to try and get that right. We got it right this year; if anything, that's something we're going to hang our hat on, not something that's going to make me run away from it."
Gov. JB Pritzker praised the work Perez did to lead his department and provide a guiding hand for those within his department to work to the best of their abilities.
"His decades in service offer an example in excellence for public servants across government, and while I'm sad to see him leave, his mark on the Fire Marshal's office will long outlast his time in office thanks to his leadership and mentorship," Pritzker said. "I wish Matt Perez all the best in retirement — he has earned it well."
Perez and his wife will head down to Arizona following their retirements, which he said is halfway in between their two children, who live in Colorado and California, respectively.
"We want to be closer to them," Perez said. "I'm not getting any younger."
Contact Zach Roth: (217) 899-4338; ZDRoth@gannett.com; @ZacharyRoth13
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Illinois state fire marshal announces retirement after 37-year career