Although he didn’t know it at the time, joining the Army gave him structure and experience he would later use as a firefighter. Belmonte says, “I feel the Army is a good building block in life. You’re not home with mommy and daddy anymore. It teaches you good structure. Just like the military, in the fire department I would tell my men, you don’t have to like me, but you do have to respect the ranks.”
That experience helped him move up the career ladder with ease. He was a firefighter from 1978 to 1982, lieutenant from 1982 to 1989, captain from 1989 to 2006 and, finally, fire chief from 2006 until June 2011, when he retired. With each new position came new responsibilities and challenges.
“As a lieutenant, I was responsible for a fire station that responded with an engine from the south side of town. One of the challenging things I had to do was supervise and give orders at the scene of the emergency, and step back and let the firefighters do their job,” Belmonte explains. “As a captain, I was responsible for the entire shift, and was director of the Fire Prevention Bureau. That part of my career was very challenging because I had to answer to the fire chief on all matters pertaining to my shift. The position of fire chief took on many more responsibility, but the most challenging was working the fire department budget.”
Not only did Belmonte’s duties change with each position, but the profession of firefighting also changes frequently. In the past 33 years, the fire service has taken on branches such as paramedic, hazardous material, trench rescue, high angle rescue and structural collapse. With those new branches, Belmonte and his crew had to learn and adapt.
When describing his everyday work as a firefighter, Belmonte said, “Any time you arrive on the scene of an emergency and have a good outcome that experience is very fulfilling no matter if it is fire-related or an ambulance emergency. On the other hand, it is always heartbreaking seeing the faces of individuals who have lost loved ones or faced the devastating damage of a house fire. When that alarm sounds, you never know what the next challenge you will be facing will present, so you have to be prepared.”
For the young men and women looking to join the profession, Belmonte says, “Train hard and learn all aspects of you job. Always remember that you are a public servant and the career that you have chosen is to serve the public to the best of your ability. Also, talk to someone in the fire service who can explain what the requirements for a firefighter are. Currently, most departments are requiring that new firefighters be a State of Illinois-certified paramedic when they are hired.”
Belmonte would like to thank the men and women he has worked with. “You are only as good as the people who work with you,” he says. “Throughout the years, I’ve been privileged to serve as a lieutenant and captain in the Village of Westchester with a group of fellow firefighters who, I believe, without their cooperation and support I would not have attained the position of fire chief.”