Photo by Jackie Dennison
New Godfrey Fire Chief Erik Kambarian, left, and former chief John Sowders.
It’s been said every end is a new beginning — and that’s certainly the case in the Godfrey Fire Protection District.
After former Chief John Sowders’ retirement April 30, Erik Kambarian has just put his first week as the district’s new fire chief behind him. Kambarian said he’s been left a stable, prospering district he plans to maintain and push forward.
“In just the six years Chief Sowders has been with this department, he’s overseen major improvements in staffing, training and overall professionalism,” Kambarian said. “For example, all firefighters now attend the State Fire Academy; which is something that’s opened a door for younger people to enter the fire service well-trained and motivated to do the job the way it needs to be done.”
Sowders retires after more than 35 years as a firefighter. He’s been the fire chief in Alton and Godfrey, beginning his career at age 21 and spending nearly 30 years with the Alton Fire Department before moving to Godfrey.
Rudy Sowders, John’s father, was Alton police chief for 16 years, from 1969-85. He died at age 73 in September 2013, leaving behind a tradition of service to the Greater Alton community.
Now retired, Sowders plans to focus on being a grandfather.
“I look at it as a sacred trust handed down to me by the people,” Sowders said of his time as a fire chief. “I’m very grateful to the towns of Godfrey and Alton, and my time at each has made me a very happy man.”
Kambarian now supervises 18 career firefighters, an assistant chief and 12 paid on-call staff members, or volunteers.
“My first priority is to take care of our firefighters because they’re the ones that take care of the public,” Kambarian said. “That’s the model that has been set for me and it’s been proven that if they’re treated right, it will trickle down into everything else.”
The Godfrey Fire Protection District is a separate taxing entity from the village, with its own board of trustees that oversees the department. Though the fire chief doesn’t answer directly to Godfrey Mayor Michael McCormick, the two have a working relationship that dates back to the mayor’s first year in office.
McCormick said he first met the village’s new fire chief in 2009, during a contest to design Godfrey’s first village flag.
“We had a lot of people turn in drawings that they thought would be an excellent flag,” McCormick said. ”But it was the new chief’s flag that was chosen by the village board of trustees to be the flag to represent the village of Godfrey.”
McCormick said that though Sowders will be missed, Kambarian has the appropriate background and skills to fill his shoes and push the district forward.
For information on the Godfrey Fire Protection District, visit www.godfreyfire.com.