After 30-plus years of service, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff has stepped down.
In his place is Jose Santiago, a veteran firefighter and former head of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications who Hoff said Thursday was "the smart and right person for the job."
Hoff, 56, a third-generation firefighter, resigned from the post on the 50th anniversary of the death of his father. Talk among rank and file persists that the surprising resignation stems from a philosophical difference over manpower as the firefighters union heads into contract talks with the mayor, but Hoff told reporters the mayor hasn't pushed him and it's time to go.
"All's I ever wanted to be was a firefighter," said Hoff, accompanied Thursday by his wife, son and two grandsons. "By the grace of God, I got where I was." One of his grandsons wore Hoff's badge, the other donned Hoff's father's badge.
Friends also joined Hoff at the firehouse, including chiefs from Evergreen Park and Carol Stream. Waiting for the mayor's news conference, firefighters paid tribute to their outgoing boss.
Hoff said he's leaving to be with "my beautiful wife Joyce" and his five grandchildren -- with one more on the way. But the fire chief, appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, has said he's against reducing staffing requirements and closing firehouses.
In response to questions about moving from five to four firefighters per truck, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it's something "we will deal with."
"There will be changes," he said.
Emanuel said no award can capture what Hoff accomplished during his tenure and the "true tribute is what he means to those he served alongside."
"In the Hoff family, service was a birthright," the mayor said. Speaking of Santiago's Marine background, Emanuel said "no one is better qualified."
As Santiago thanked his predecessor, he got choked up and he and Hoff hugged.