Dubuque’s new fire chief aims to inspire, move department forward


Amy Scheller, new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department, says that she wants to “leave my mark.” PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller stands at fire headquarters in Dubuque on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen congratulates Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller after she was sworn in on June 6 at the Historic Federal Building in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Amy Scheller, new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department, says that she wants to “leave my mark.” PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller stands at fire headquarters in Dubuque on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen congratulates Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller after she was sworn in on June 6 at the Historic Federal Building in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Amy Scheller, new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department, says that she wants to “leave my mark.” PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller stands at fire headquarters in Dubuque on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen congratulates Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller after she was sworn in on June 6 at the Historic Federal Building in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Amy Scheller, new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department, says that she wants to “leave my mark.” PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller stands at fire headquarters in Dubuque on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen congratulates Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller after she was sworn in on June 6 at the Historic Federal Building in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Amy Scheller, new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department, says that she wants to “leave my mark.” PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller stands at fire headquarters in Dubuque on Thursday. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY


Dubuque City Manager Mike Van Milligen congratulates Dubuque Fire Chief Amy Scheller after she was sworn in on June 6 at the Historic Federal Building in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

From an early age, Amy Scheller relished the thrill of working as a team.

Growing up in Phoenix and later Illinois, Scheller played in a range of sports, from softball to basketball. While studying at Aurora (Ill.) University, she continued her passion for teamwork by playing Division III softball, basketball, soccer and tennis.

That love for team coordination and working together to overcome an obstacle is what eventually drove her to join the fire department in Montgomery, Ill., where she discovered her love for fire protection.

This week, Scheller, 50, officially took on her biggest team leader position yet as the new chief of the Dubuque Fire Department.

“I do want to inspire people, and I want to leave my mark,” Scheller said in an interview with the Telegraph Herald. “I want to ensure that some of the vision and leadership skills that I have learned over the years can be put to good use here.”

Scheller is the permanent successor of former Fire Chief Rick Steines, who retired in March. As the first female fire chief in the city’s history, her appointment marks a historic milestone for the community, but for Scheller, this is far from the first time she has been the first woman to inhabit a leadership role.

Prior to coming to Dubuque, she worked for 24 years at the fire department in Naperville, Ill., a city with a population of about 150,000. During her tenure, she became the first woman in that department to serve as deputy fire chief, as division chief of operations, as bureau chief of support services and as bureau chief for emergency medical services.

“You are seeing more and more women step into these kinds of leadership positions,” Scheller said. “Each time, I have had the support of the members of the organization. As long as you come confident and competent, you are going to be supported.”

In addition to Scheller’s total of 30 years of firefighting experience, she is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, has a bachelor’s degree in education from Aurora University and holds a master’s degree in public safety administration from Lewis University.

Scheller said she chose to pursue the Dubuque position because of her family connections to the area, with several family members still living in or near the city, and her deep respect for the department.

“Every time I turned another page on the Dubuque Fire Department, it was just another awesome part,” she said.

Scheller said she plans to continue the ongoing work of the fire department while also striving to improve it. She stressed the importance of developing leadership, mapping out succession planning and addressing any gaps in service.

She’s taking the helm of a department recently hit by controversy.

Firefighter Jami Boss sued the city and Steines in September 2020 for sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Following an eight-day civil trial in February, a jury found that she proved her claims of sexual harassment and discrimination and awarded her $575,000.

Scheller said she doesn’t want to ignore the lawsuit and aims to make whatever improvements are necessary in order to ensure that a similar situation doesn’t occur again.

“That was part of the history of the department,” Scheller said. “It’s always tough to face challenges, but it’s needed. It will be my focus to learn and to put those pieces in place and move forward.”

She added that she also will prioritize transparency with the public and push for keeping the community informed of the department’s initiatives.

“I really want to establish a positive impact on the community,” she said. “I hope in a couple of years we can look back and say, ‘Hey, here are some of the good things that are happening.’”

Early on, though, Scheller said she will prioritize learning as much as she can about the department and its staff before she moves to implement her strategies.

She is sharing an office with Assistant Fire Chief Cal Motsch, who served as interim fire chief between the departure of Steines and the arrival of Scheller.

From his early time spent with her, Motsch said he believes the Dubuque Fire Department is in good hands.

“I have a lot of respect for her,” he said. “She has come up through the ranks, she has put in the work, and that was very evident from the first time I met her.”

John Kruse writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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