New Huntley fire chief eager to serve community

HUNTLEY – During his 13 years helping fight fires in Huntley, Ken Caudle climbed the ranks, filled various leadership roles, and oversaw major projects for the fire protection district.

On Nov. 3, the deputy chief will make the ultimate climb in rank. Caudle, 44, will take over for retiring Fire Chief Jim Saletta, and he soon will become the face of the fire district, charged with managing staff, investigations, operations and a $13 million budget.

“My biggest goal is for a nice, smooth transition, working closely with my officers and firefighters, and making sure the community is served to the best of our ability,” Caudle said. “Obviously, the No. 1 goal is community service.”

Huntley’s growing, close-knit community is what first drew Caudle to the area after he spent 12 years as a deputy chief for a department in the small suburb of McCook in western Cook County.

He came to the fire protection district as a firefighter and paramedic. Soon after, he climbed the ranks from lieutenant to captain and finally deputy chief of administration.

During his ascent through district ranks, Caudle took on important project roles. He worked with businesses and local governments as project manager for the district’s successful effort to build a fourth fire station in Alqonquin in 2011.

He was directly involved in the district’s national accreditation in 2009, overseeing the bookkeeping and paperwork for accreditation for three years.

In that role, the deputy chief absorbed much information about the district – response times, staff reviews, strengths and weaknesses of the department.

“It was a learning experience,” Caudle said. “I learned how we operated and what areas we needed to improve on. You really know every nook and cranny of the business.”

Caudle also will have a challenge in filling a position left by Saletta, who spent 11 years as fire chief. Saletta, 63, announced his retirement last month and plans to spend more time with his family.

Before officially starting this fall, Caudle will work alongside Saletta for the next two months and gain firsthand insight on managing 55 full-time staffers and a service area that encompasses 55,000 residents.

“I’m extremely excited and proud to follow in his footsteps,” Caudle said. “He has been a great mentor and leader. My personal goal is to be as good as him.”

Others within the district don’t have any doubts about Caudle’s leadership. Deputy Chief Keith Mallegni said Caudle possesses the skill and know-how to lead the district into a future where community growth and more fire safety demands are expected.

Mallegni, who has spent more than 30 years in the district, has worked with Caudle since his arrival in Huntley in 1998.

“He’s very capable of the chief position,” Mallegni said. “He’s definitely a leader. He’s got a lot of foresight. He plans very well.”

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