By Devese “Dee” Ursery
COLLINSVILLE — Collinsville Deputy Fire Chief of Operations, Kevin Reis recently attained the Executive Fire Officer designation, a distinguished classification for senior-level fire and emergency medical services leaders. A classification that only 157 firefighters in the state of Illinois share.
During the EFO Program, participants gain leadership skills they can use to strengthen their organization and help make their community more resilient. Participants represent a diverse group of federal, state, local, territorial, tribal and private sector fire and EMS leaders from career and volunteer organizations, who become enhanced decision makers and innovative collaborators.
Fire Chief John Bailot, Collinsville Fire Department explained that the EFO classification is the highest point of their profession.
“In my mind it’s comparable to the FBI academy on the police side. It is a sense of pride to make this achievement,” Bailot said. “My goal is to have the fire department’s executive team earn the EFO designation. Not only does it signify how well trained a person is, because of the curriculum, it helps anyone holding this designation to handle their administrative tasks with a little more confidence.”
Reis, 59 with over 28 years of fire/emergency service, is originally from Fenton, Missouri and successfully graduated from the EFO Program on Nov. 3. He came to Collinsville after accepting the position of deputy chief of operations for CFD, after working over 25 years with the Mehlville Fire Protection District in Missouri. He is also an Army veteran who served active duty in Germany from 1986 to 1990. He finished off his military obligation with six more years in the Army Reserve as a Military Intelligence agent working on Propaganda Development in St. Louis.
“After the military I began looking for a job that had a lot of the same characteristics as the military, such as camaraderie and ‘esprit de corps,’” Reis said. “Throughout my career I have always sought to further my education not only for the leadership aspects but also as a firefighter. I always felt that when we are called, the people want the most highly trained professionals showing up.”
Reis said that he started his firefighting/paramedic career as a volunteer firefighter in 1993. After obtaining his Paramedic license and attending the fire academy, he was hired as a full-time firefighter in 1995. Reis credits his Lieutenants in the U.S. Army as his biggest influence because they showed him how a true leader should think, act and treat others.
Reis is from a military family whose father served during the Vietnam era, but deployed to the region. He also has uncles who served in World War II and Korea.
In a military family full of police officers, Reis decided to go a different route and became a firefighter/paramedic. “I am the first firefighter, I grew up in a family of police officers. So I wanted to serve the community that surrounded me,” Reis continued.
Reis said he really enjoyed the paramedic aspect of being a firefighter/paramedic, which is taking care of people.
“I felt that I was much better at climbing into a torn up car and helping put the people back together or running into a burning building and I didn’t mind heights and they are terrified,” Reis said. “My family didn’t really understand why I was into that.”
Reis is also a member of several organizations within the firefighting/emergency services realm. He professed that he is a member of the St. Louis County strike team, Swiftwater rescue, Rescue Diver, High Angle Rope Rescue, as well as a Fire Investigator.
Reis’ accomplishment epitomizes his single-minded dedication to leadership and education in the field of firefighting. He moved to Collinsville after accepting the position of deputy fire chief for the CFD in Oct. 2021.
“I saw this program as the highest achievement through the National Fire Academy,” Reis said. “When I became aware of the program I knew that I wanted to complete it.”
The EFOP, administered by the National Fire Academy, is an arduous and comprehensive program designed for senior fire officers aiming to enhance their professional skills, per a press release from the NFA. The program encompasses an array of critical areas, including leadership, community risk reduction, strategic planning, and organizational dynamics, equipping participants with the necessary tools to effectively manage modern fire service challenges.
Reis said the EFO program started for him approximately six years ago. He said after graduating from Maryville University he sought to be accepted into the program.
“Once I was accepted the program was put on hold as they retooled the program to make it more streamlined. Then the program along with the rest of the world was rocked with COVID-19 shutting down the residency portion of the program,” Reis said. “I completed a multitude of 12 week on-line classes during Covid. Then completed four = residency programs at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg MD. Prior to attending the final residency, I completed my research project that I had been working on over the last year.”
To fulfill the research requirements of the EFO Program students must complete a Capstone Research Paper . The project selection for the CRP is designed to allow students to investigate a key issue or problem that has been identified to their fire service organization and community.
“Writing the research paper was the most difficult process,” Reis said. “I went from never having to complete a research project; to having to complete a paper documenting all my findings.”
Reis said his research project was based on the fire department providing fire and life safety messages being made available to the immigrant community, especially those aged 65 and older.
“I am very proud of Deputy Chief Reis,” Bailot said. “I earned the EFO designation in 2014 and fully understand the commitment it takes to complete the program.”