Ed Durkin passed away last Friday, October 27 at the age of 88. He was Madison's Fire Chief from August 20, 1979 to February 28, 1985.
Chief Durkin was a true leader in the City of Madison. He was inspirational to so many people, including me. I didn’t know Chief Durkin as a firefighter—he had been retired for about five years before I started working for the fire department. I did have the fortune to “pick his brain” several times over the last 28 years that I have worked for the city.
As the Fire Chief, there aren’t many people you can turn to who've had similar experiences leading a fire department. I found great comfort whenever he would give me that small reassurance and big smile regarding the decisions I faced.
Chief Durkin changed the culture in the Madison Fire Department. He didn’t do it in the five short years he was Fire Chief. He laid the groundwork, throughout his career, that shaped the organization our community appreciates to this day.
I have known him to be a humble person. He would never comment on operational or policy matters within the department. He recognized that he was no longer in position to do so. I always admired that quality in him: He always knew where his limits were, and I think there are many leaders in our local community who could learn from that.
He would, however, discuss leading people and bringing people together over a shared vision. He had an incredible way with people.
Chief Durkin had a vision for what was right and how to always improve our service. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for that vision, which included bringing women and people of color into the fire department, even if he lost friends over it.
It is the quiet unassuming leaders we need more of today, as well as leaders who are willing to put societal values over their own personal gain. Chief Durkin was one of those leaders. I’m a better person because of him, and the Madison Fire Department will miss him!
Thank you, Chief Durkin and family, for sharing these tremendous qualities. Every resident in this city continues to benefit from them today.
Obituary: Edward D. Durkin (1929-2017)
The Capital Times: Plain Talk: Ed Durkin was truly one of the good guys
Photos courtesy of Capital City Courage.