AdVantage News | Fred Pollard
Matthew Preston is the newest addition to the Alton Fire Department family. The young firefighter was sworn in during Alton’s City Council meeting on Jan. 22.
ALTON − With the appointment of Matthew Preston as the city’s newest firefighter, Alton Fire Chief Bernie Sebold hopes to ignite strong ties with the community.
“Matt was sworn in during a city council meeting,” Sebold said. “We couldn’t find any record where that had been done before. Rather than just hand someone a badge in my office, I feel we can celebrate a hiring or a new rank in the public eye.
“I am a firm believer in tradition, and sometimes those traditions have to be started by a new generation.”
Preston was sworn in by Mayor Brant Walker during a regularly scheduled City Council meeting held Jan. 22.
“I decided to start taking some fire classes and EMT class while attending SIU Edwardsville, and upon finishing those I decided that this was something I wanted to do,” Preston, 26, said. “I guess you could say it sparked my interest.”
The city’s newest employee grew up in Hartford and began volunteering with the Hartford Fire Department in 2006 (“I had put in an application years before, but you had to be 18 and I was still in middle school,” he said.), spending the next six years learning the job.
Volunteering provided Preston with a passion to move a little closer to the heat and the action.
“Serving on a department that serves a small community really made me hungry,” he said. “Hearing some of the stories firefighters from larger communities had to tell made me realize I wanted to experience that.”
When not working out or spending time with his girlfriend, Lauren, most of Preston’s free time is spent studying (he graduates with a bachelor’s degree in fire service management from SIU Carbondale this spring) and learning the streets and back roads of Alton.
Don’t mistake Preston’s intensity and determination for a lack of humility. He says he is grateful every day for the instruction and mentorship he has received in his career.
“I thought I knew everything there was to know about firefighting, and this past year (volunteering with the Alton Fire Department) I learned how much more I had to learn,” he said. “I am very fortunate and very glad to be here, and I look forward to having a long career protecting this community.”
Chief Sebold says he wants Preston’s public appointment to set a new precedent in the city.
“A lot of fire departments currently do this,” he said. “The mayor, the alderman and the public should see their firefighters in a setting other than just emergency response. We are here to serve; I would like to interact with the public other than just when they need to call 911.”