Ready to serve

Newly hired Saukville fire chief eager to tackle local challenges after honing leadership skills in Arizona

Thad Trinko
Ozaukee Press Staff

Don’t call Thad Trinko retired.

Trinko may have retired in 2012 from the Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Fire Department, where he served for 36 years as a full-time firefighter, including as battalion chief, but  he has remained active in firefighting since.

Trinko, 61, recently agreed to be the next fire chief for the Saukville Fire Department, succeeding Gilly Schultz, who was chief for 19 years and had been with the department for 44 years.

Since he left the Lake Havasu City department, Trinko said he has been involved with training Arizona firefighters statewide, from small rural volunteer departments to those that employ full-time firefighters in major urban area such as Phoenix.

“I always look for opportunities to stay engaged with fire services and have stayed involved in training firefighters across the state,” he said in a telephone interview. 

Trinko said he is familiar with Saukville because his wife, Terry, was born in the West Bend area, and their family has traveled here many times to visit relatives.

“We visit the area regularly,” he said. “It’s a place we always considered relocating to. 

“It was a little bit of a surprise to me that they accepted me. I’m very excited about the opportunity they’re giving me.”

Trinko, who is still waiting for background checks and other details to be cleared before he is officially named chief, said he visited the area for three or four days for face-to-face interviews and “to get a look at the community, the industry, the traffic and the general area.”

Trinko was selected for the job over four other finalists, three of whom are current members of the Saukville department.

Asked why she and other village officials chose Trinko over the other candidates, Village President Barb Dickmann said in an email, “Thad was the most qualified,” and provided a list of his attributes: 

“Seriousness - knowledge - strong commitment - history - ability to get the job done - leadership skills - interest in Saukville.”

Trinko started his career with the Lake Havasu City department as a volunteer paid-on-call firefighter in January 1976. He was hired as a full-time firefighter in December that same year. 

As battalion chief and training officer, Trinko oversaw the ongoing training of the department’s more than 70-plus firefighters and conducted training academies for new recruits.

Other duties included overseeing support services, setting budgets and procuring and overseeing maintenance of equipment and vehicles, Trinko’s application said.

Trinko said the change in climate from Arizona to Wisconsin will not be a major factor for him.

Lake Havasu City is in the low desert area of western Arizona where temperatures in the summer can reach over 110 degrees.

“We get extremes in heat and wind,” he said. “We may get five or six inches of rain a year.”

Such extreme temperatures require that firefighters take mandatory breaks about every 20 minutes, he said. 

But that’s no different than precautions that must be taken in extreme cold, he said.

“The weather is not an issue. It will just be different,” Trinko said, noting that he has fought fires in mountainous areas in frigid temperatures and deep snow.

Assuming everything falls in place with the background checks, Trinko said he expects to join the department in early December.

He has two grown daughters and two grandchildren living in Lake Havasu City.

Trinko is familiar enough with the area to know how he’ll spend some of his free time here, he said.

“I’ve fished in your neck of the woods several times,” he said. “I also go off-roading in side-by-side vehicles, which will be somewhat limited” in southeast Wisconsin compared to what’s available in Arizona, he said.

As to what he expects on the job when he arrives, Trinko said it will take time to get to know the personnel, the department and its needs.

“You have to put in the time to understand the needs of the village and the fire department and make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said.

A recent analysis by a consultant hired by the village reported that there’s a great deal of pride and commitment among department members but that improvements are needed in personnel management and discipline procedures.

Trinko said he had not yet read the report but was familiar with it.

“It was verbally relayed to me by board members and the consultant that the members of the organization are very dedicated and that the equipment is in good shape but that some policies and procedures need to be addressed,” he said. 

“I need some additional guidance and then will develop a plan to take the department where it needs to go.

“I see this as a great opportunity for my self and my wife and to further my career in a fire service that may need some of the expertise I possess.” 



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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