Calumet Park Fire Chief Jimmy Ross Explains Secret Behind Rise to the Top
Jan. 23, 2022
(For immediate release) It’s been a long, winding and strange road to the top for Calumet Park Fire Chief Jimmy Ross. Such a twisting road, in fact, that his climb to the top in the fire service industry didn’t start until he left a previous job at the age of 32.
“My uncle owned a couple of liquor stores and I ran them until they closed,” Ross said with a laugh. “I only applied to be a medical car driver after the liquor stores closed and my friend asked me to give him a ride to apply at Superior. I still don’t understand why my friend was applying to drive an ambulance because he needed me to drive him to apply for the job.”
Ross, now 67, said he decided to apply to be a driver for Superior Ambulance to pass the time while waiting for his friend. Superior officials interviewed him on the spot, hired him two days later and told him to “start Monday” as an entry level medical car driver with a route that took him into Chicago.
“They didn’t call my friend,” Ross said, laughing. “I guess it was because he couldn’t drive on a suspended license.”
What started out as something to “pass the time” enabled Ross to transition from a simple liquor store job into a career with Superior Ambulance in 1985. As years went on, Ross expanded his training and became an EMT and Paramedic with Metro Paramedic Services, then a full-time firefighter/paramedic, a deputy chief and now a chief at the Calumet Park Fire Department.
“The fire service is one career where every day is different and you spend all your time helping other people,” he said. “If you want to help people and you want to make a difference in your community, the fire service is the best place to be.”
It takes a lot of hard work to go from a medical car driver to the Calumet Park Fire Chief, Ross said. It takes hard work and willingness to push yourself to climb up the ladder of success.
“One day, when I was a medical car driver, I had a patient that started having chest pains. We didn’t know CPR or First Aid back then, so I had to call dispatch and they called 911,” he said. “I decided I needed to get my EMT training so I would know how to treat a patient in case I was ever in that position again.”
Ross went back to school, received his EMT certification, then transferred to work in a Superior ambulance.
“When I went into the ambulance, I decided I should train to be a paramedic in case a patient became short of breath or had a seizure or something,” he said. “To be a paramedic is a great opportunity to help someone in your community, maybe help someone you know.”
He shifted to work at Metro Paramedics after studying for two years on his paramedic license. He later transferred to become a full-time firefighter/paramedic with Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont in 1996.
Ross later went back to school and obtained a college degree while working his way up the ladder of success, thanks to Argonne’s college reimbursement program.
“That helped me become the first African American lieutenant in Argonne, then the first African American Battalion Chief,” Ross said. “While I was off recovering from foot surgery in 2019, a friend called me and told me to apply to become the chief in Calumet Park. So I put in for the job.”
He said Calumet Park officials set him up with an interview and, after a tour, the mayor called him into the chief’s office to offer him the job.
“The village administrator liked me, the mayor liked me, so they offered me the job,” he said, laughing. “The only problem was they already offered the position to someone else, so they made (Metro Director of Business Development) Heidi (Hermes) call the other person and tell him the mayor changed his mind.”
Ross added fire service paved his way to success, which is why its perplexing to him that there isn’t a line of people nationwide looking to follow his lead up the ladder of success in the fire services.
“If I could go back and tell young Jimmy Ross something, it would be to learn emergency care and to educate yourself,” he said. “These will be the keys you’ll need along the road to be successful.”
In addition, he heaped praise on Superior and Metro for giving him the tools, training and contacts he needed to be successful in life.
“Metro and Superior are great places to start a career in the fire industry,” he said. “I still remember my sponsors and the people when I first started. I still remember a lot of the people who would go out of their way to teach me and help me. It was a great experience.”
Video Interview of Fire Chief Jimmy Ross