While Ben Steketee just celebrated 20 years as Hillsboro Fire Chief on Sunday, he didn’t ever think he would get to fight fires, let alone be chief.
“I grew up in California where only the most fit and the best of the best were chosen for positions in fire departments. And I got into some trouble when I was growing up so I never thought I would be in a top position,” said Steketee.
But then Steketee moved to Kansas.
“I moved to Hillsboro and my friend Dale Winter asked me if I would want to volunteer for the fire department. I thought it sounded like fun,” said Steketee.
Steketee volunteered for almost three years when the mayor of Hillsboro, Delores Dalke, approached him about becoming the Fire Chief. He accepted, shadowed then chief Wayne Lowery for a day to see what he did and suddenly he was in charge.
“Everyone acted like it was a big deal that I was chosen, but I always told them, ‘Don’t be impressed. Nobody else wanted the job!’” said Steketee.
While Steketee said this comment laughing, that lighthearted downplaying of his own abilities seems to be a theme of his leadership.
When asked about his greatest accomplishments, Steketee could only mention his team and all they do.
“Thanks to my team, I went from a bum into a trusted member of the community,” said Steketee.
When asked about all of the equipment he has been able to get the department from grants and other funding, he replied, “That wasn’t me either. That was all my Captains. Both Rusty Moss and Matt Hein knew how to get the funding from FEMA and other agencies to get what we needed. I have such a great team. I’m just surrounded by great people.”
He went on to add, “The citizens of Hillsboro and the surrounding areas are truly blessed to have such a high level of dedication from the volunteer firefighters. Any success that I may have enjoyed is a direct result of the officers and firefighters around me. On the fire scene everyone does their part, but on top of that, all the time and work that goes on behind the scene takes effort and dedication, and the Hillsboro officers and firefighters have always come through!”
It seems that those who work for him and with him feel the same about him. So many have positive things to say about Steketee.
“Ben has been instrumental in advancing the fire department to a higher level of service for our citizens. Under his leadership we have added rescue services as well as more advanced capabilities among the membership of the department,” said Captain Matt Hein.
And City Administrator Matt Stiles said, “Chief Steketee is a true leader. He has pushed the department to be its best in all regards especially when it comes to safety and training. Hillsboro has been lucky to have someone as dedicated to his position and department as Ben.”
Steketee’s biggest concern from his beginning and now, 20 years later, is safety.
“I always want to get the fire out, but my main job is to make sure my guys come home safe at night,” he said.
He said he has many great memories, but the ones that stand out are the times when they got the whole county together for large scale training events.
“Water shuttle training out at the lake, weekend long live fire training events using an acquired house that some generous owner would donate for training. Those types of things are great training and lots of fun,” said Steketee.
Steketee is not only proud of the department he has built but of what Marion County has built.
He told a story of a recent fire in Goessel where a family lost everything and three departments not only brought crews out, but they linked up their trucks and water tanks together in order to have more resources to fight the fire.
20 years is a long time. Is Steketee done?
“ I will need to see a new fire station built before I even think about retiring! Plus I want to keep training firefighters and keep everyone safe on scene for awhile,” said Steketee.
It sounds like this fire chief has a lot left to give.