Fire Chief Tracey Steffes’ Action and Expertise Saved Thousands, Earning Him the 2022 Red Cross Firefighter Hero Award, Sponsored by Wintrust

Fire Chief Tracey Steffes of Morris, Illinois, is the 2022 Red Cross Firefighter Hero Award recipient. Chief Steffes has dedicated his life to his community, serving first as a volunteer fireman for the city of Morris before eventually becoming fire chief. In June 2021, Chief Steffes faced his biggest challenge as the leader of the Morris Fire Department, when nearly 200,000 lithium batteries exploded, and a massive fire with toxic fumes erupted, posing a serious threat to the health of his community. Chief Steffes led the effort to evacuate thousands of people from the area; nearly one-third of the city’s residents.

Fire Chief Tracey Steffes | Photo courtesy of American Red Cross


Managing this large battery fire presented complexities as traditional fire extinguishment methods would exacerbate rather than extinguish the large, growing fire. Chief Steffes consulted with agencies around the world to coordinate the unique response to the fire and to continue operations in the days and weeks to come. At one point, more than 40 firefighting companies were on hand helping to battle the blaze. Chief Steffes now receives calls from other agencies when they face similar situations and provides insights to help protect their citizens. Chief Steffes is credited with staying calm during a situation that could have escalated further, without proper leadership and swift action.


The American Red Cross of Illinois celebrates the everyday heroes in our communities and honors their acts of great bravery, dedication and service through their annual Heroes Breakfast event. The event also serves as a way for the organization to highlight partnerships with corporations like Wintrust that make the lifesaving mission possible. As the sponsor of the 2022 Firefighter Award, Wintrust makes it possible for the Red Cross to be prepared to respond to more than 60,000 disasters nationwide.


Ed Wehmer, CEO & Founder of Wintrust, said of their support, “Wintrust is first and foremost a community bank, and the communities we serve are made safer and stronger by individuals who choose to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others. So we are more than happy to support those community heroes, whether it be through employee-led blood drives, local fundraisers or the day-to-day services Wintrust provides. They are there for us when we need them, and any time we can show our appreciation we try to take the opportunity.”

Wintrust volunteers working at an event


Learn more about the 2022 Red Cross Heroes, nominate a hero in your life, and support the American Red Cross today.

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Jessica Braun Gervais is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and fitness. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from Columbia College and has written content for various health and wellness institutions. Jessica Braun’s passion for wellness comes from her life as an elite athlete competing in Muay Thai kickboxing competitions across the country. In addition to sharing her expertise through writing, Jessica Braun also works as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. When she’s not writing or training, Jessica Braun enjoys reading historical fiction novels, discovering new coffee shops, and cuddling with her cattle dog, Brady.

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