22 Aug 2014
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Former Oak Lawn Interim Fire Chief Ernie Russell Dead at 74

Highly regarded fire chief succumbed to heart problems on Monday evening. Village officials and firefighters call Chief Russell, "the consummate public servant."

Former Oak Lawn Interim Fire Chief Ernie Russell Dead at 74

A highly respected former interim Oak Lawn fire chief passed away Monday in Peoria.

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Ernie Russell, the former Peoria fire chief and state fire marshal died on Monday. He was 74.

The Peoria Journal Star said that Russell had a history of heart problems and had been hospitalized since Saturday.

Russell had a long career in fire service and had served as Peoria’s chief for 6½ years. He was with the Peoria Fire Department for nearly 34 years when he retired in 2001 at the age of 62, the Journal Star reported.

Most recently he had served as the interim fire chief of Canton, IL, until 2011.

He was named state fire marshal in early 2001 under former Republic Gove George Ryan. He served in this role about 2½ years when former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich did not reappoint him.

Russell also ran as a Republican and lost to the Democratic challenger for the Illinois Senate seat in Dist. 46.

In 2008, Russell became interim chief for the Oak Lawn Fire Department where he was highly regarded by village firefighters and officials.

We loved him very much,” Oak Lawn Firefighter Bob Lanz said. “We are sad he is gone. But we will ensure his legacy and memory live on.”

Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen called Russell the consummate public servant. He described Russell as a loving husband, father and grandfather, who looked forward after long days in Oak Lawn, to spending time with his wife, Sara. He enjoyed attending weekend events with his grandchildren.

“He served Oak Lawn with distinction and I valued his fire department leadership as well as his friendship,” Deetjen said in an email. “Chief Russell, Oak Lawn Village salutes your service as well as your friendship. Oak Lawn is rich in public safety tradition and history. You will always be part of it.”

Two Oak Lawn firefighters will be serving as pallbearers at the request of Sara Russell.

Wright & Salmon Mortuary in Peoria is handing funeral arrangements.

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