By Nathan Woodside
Newly-appointed Maryville Fire Protection District Chief Doug Dankenbring keeps a personally-meaningful photo perched atop his desk.
It’s of a glowing fire captain at work beside his truck, a former close friend.
The two are former fixtures at Godfrey Protection District. Captain Jake Ringering perished while finishing off the final flames of a house fire on a freezing cold day in March of 2019, when the brick exterior of the destroyed home collapsed on him. An investigation indicated that lapses in safety protocol may have unknowingly placed Ringering and his colleagues in avoidable danger.
“I’m going to make sure that our guys get all the training they need so that they’re safe on these calls that we respond to,” Dankenbring said. “That’s extremely important to me.”
Dankenbring joined Maryville Fire the July after Ringering’s death as a firefighter and paramedic. The move also gave him the opportunity to work on his family’s farm after the passing of his father.
Dankenbring was sworn in as chief Aug. 16 after a stint in an interim role.
“Captain Ringering was my friend,” he said. “I think about him and his family everyday. I don’t want to see the personnel here experience what we did in Godfrey. So, I’m going to really stress safety.”
Dankenbring will work closely with the Illinois Fire Institute and the Office of the State Fire Marshall to cover safety training guidelines. His staff also trains with the Troy and Glen Carbon Fire Protection Districts, along with the Collinsville Fire Department.
“We train together so that we can operate better together when we’re on the scene,” Dankenbring said. “That collaboration helps a lot. Just working with other departments, we share a lot of ideas and expertise.”
Growing up in Edwardsville, Dankenbring admits he never imagined someday becoming a fire chief.
“I never thought that I would be in the position of a fire chief,” he said.
Dankebring’s first career was in architecture, designing and building homes. But that life took a sudden and unexpected detour with the housing market crisis between 2006 and 2009.
“I had gotten laid off from my job, but I was also about six years in as a volunteer with the Bethalto Fire Department,” Dankenbring said. “I decided to get my paramedic license and make a career change. I started testing, and Godfrey was the first one to call. I learned a lot there. I enjoyed it.”
When his father died, there was no one to tend to his family’s farm, so Dankenbring moved to the Maryville Fire Protection District.
“Life happens,” he said. “It was tough leaving my brothers in Godfrey, especially after Jake passed away, but ultimately I got to be back out on the family farm that I grew up on. I was going to live here, do my 24/48’s and everything was going to be great.”
When his predecessor George May began considering retirement, Dankenbring returned to college to work towards bachelor’s degrees in public safety management and fire science.
“I decided that I really wanted this,” Dankenbring said. “I’ve really enjoyed the change. I do miss getting on the trucks and going out, but I will go out and help when they need it, especially on EMS calls and larger incidents. I will try to be there. I really enjoy this change and this aspect of the fire service.”
Another impact that Dankenbring is making in the local fire service is his work with The Backstoppers, a non-profit organization that provides financial support to spouses and children of first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty.
At the request of Allison Ringering, Jake’s wife, Dankenbring is working to be a founding member of the Madison County chapter of The Backstoppers. They’ve completed their 501(c)(3) filing and its bylaws have been accepted by The Backstoppers main office in St. Louis.
“Now, we can focus on raising funds in Madison County,” Dankenbring said. “It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of. The Backstoppers is one of the biggest things I believe in. A lot of that has to do with Captain Ringering, so that hit really close to me. It’s exciting to have Maryville Fire become a member of The Backstoppers organization, joining as an agency. It’s, just, super cool.”