Chesterton Tribune

46 years of service: Fire Chief Skip Highwood dies at 66

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An obituary with times of services and visitation is below: Click here



The late Walt Pliske—former Chesterton fire chief—remembered the first time he met Skip Highwood. Skip’s father, Fireman Offley Highwood, was introducing his infant son to the guys. “He was a little baby,” Pliske told the Chesterton Tribune in 2002. “His dad brought him to the fire station and said ‘Here’s your next fire chief.’”

At around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Warren “Skip” Highwood died at the age of 66, and the flag at the Chesterton town hall was lowered to half mast in honor of a man who spent 46 years in the fire service, the last 18 as Chesterton fire chief.

Interim Fire Chief Mike Orlich served with Highwood for 26 years but has known him virtually his entire life. “He was my Little League coach,” Orlich said. “After a game he’d pack us into the station wagon and take us to the Dairy Queen. He was more than a firefighter and more than a chief. He was my friend.”

“And he was a chief’s chief,” Orlich said. “You can’t put into words how this will affect the department. We’ll never really get over the loss. We’ll learn to cope with it. For years to come people will talk about his contributions to the department and the fire service in the whole county.”

Highwood joined the Chesterton Volunteer Fire Department in 1962 at the age of 19. Those were the days when a man could get it into his head that he wanted to fight fires, put on a helmet, boots, and coat, jump onto the back of an engine, and pick up a hose and go to work. It doesn’t work that way anymore. Over the years Highwood watched the fire service become as much a science as a craft, an extraordinarily technical and regulated profession, and he responded accordingly, helping to found the highly regarded Duneland School of Emergency Response, which since 1991—the year after Highwood became chief—has been teaching hundreds of Midwest firefighters every year the latest in technique and technology.

Highwood was also instrumental in establishing the Porter County Fire Chiefs Association and was a long-time booster of rural departments throughout the Midwest, helping them to acquire second-hand vehicles and equipment.

In 2002 Highwood was voted State Firefighter of the Year by the Indiana Veterans of Foreign Wars, in 2006 he was made a Sagamore of the Wabash, and in 2007 he was honored with the Paul Harris Award by the Chesterton-Porter Rotary Club for service to his community.

“He was a friend for years,” Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Chief Bill Branham said. “The loss of his experience and the loss of his guidance will be missed by all departments. He fought to the bitter end, which is the way he was.”

“Whenever I had a fire-related question, I called Skip,” Porter Fire Chief Lewis Craig said. “And he would know the answer or know how to get it. He was very knowledgeable. And he was one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met.”

“He was quietly effective,” Orlich recalled. “He would make his feelings known in a calm cool way. I don’t really ever remember him expressing anger. He had a certain way of expressing his disapproval.”

A couple of years ago, as Orlich told it—after Highwood had successfully quit smoking for a year—a CFD firefighter had a mishap driving the aerial and crushed its basket against a tree just across the street from the station. “We were all outside looking at it,” Orlich said. “Skip pulls up, gets out, looks at it, gets back in his Suburban, and goes out and buys a pack of cigarettes.”

The particular firefighter who was driving the aerial at the time told the rest of the story. “Chief Highwood didn’t say a word to me. I said, ‘You’ve got to say something. Call me a jerk.’ He goes, ‘Okay, jerk, go mail this’ and throws me an envelope. Turned out to be insurance forms for the aerial.”

Orlich also remembered Highwood as an outspoken advocate of fire safety who, on one occasion, objected to the issuance of a variance which exempted a business owner from installing sprinklers in his store. Instead, the owner pledged to install emergency doors every 50 lineal feet. The inevitable happened, the business burned to the ground in a blaze which injured several firefighters, and when the owner arrived at the scene Highwood had only this to say to him, Orlich recollected. “‘I guess those doors every 50 feet really helped to save your building.’”

In May 2002—the 100th anniversary year of the founding of the CFD—Highwood was diagnosed with a cancerous growth in his lung and began undergoing chemo-therapy. His firefighters promptly shaved their heads in solidarity and to this day a few are still bald. The cancer went into remission, then returned, and Highwood underwent additional therapy. Through it all he remained active as the CFD chief, succeeding in persuading the Town Council to acquire a new aerial, never quite succeeding in persuading it to build a new fire station east of Ind. 49. Last year Highwood opted to discontinue therapy.

“The fire service is a family,” Orlich said. “And we lost our father.”

A full obituary appears below:


Warren ‘Skip’ Highwood dies at 66 

Former Chesterton Fire Chief Warren L. “Skip” Highwood, 66, of Chesterton, died on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009, in Valparaiso, surrounded by family members, friends, and fellow brothers in uniform.

He was born on Dec. 18, 1942, in Valparaiso, the son of Offley and Verna (Shaner) Highwood, who preceded him in death.

On Sept. 26, 1992, in Chesterton, he married the love of his life, Nancy Evans, who survives in Chesterton.

He is also survived by a son, Todd Highwood of Long Beach, Calif.; four daughters, Stephanie (Michael) Choucalas, Heather Highwood (Richard Sykora), Nicole (Michael) Moskalick, and Gwen (Kenneth) O’Connor, all of Chesterton; a sister, Marilyn (Harold) McCorkel of Chesterton; grandchildren, Morgan (fiancé David Bradley) and Michael Choucalas, Michael and Brittany Moskalick, and Nathan and Evan O’Conner; great-granddaughters, Kenedi Bradley and Peyton Moskalick; his mother-in-law, Florence Evans; many brothers- and sisters-in-law; many nieces and nephews; loved as a sister, Lorraine Mohnssen; loved as a son, Carl Charlson; and extended family, Morris (Linda) Poe Jr., Morris (Patricia) Poe Sr., and Fern Poe, all of Marquand, Mo.; and many other loved ones from Missouri.

He was preceded in death by his father-in-law, Francis Evans; and life-long friend, Jess Williams.

Highwood lived in Duneland all of his life, joining the Chesterton Volunteer Fire Department in 1962 and becoming the town’s first full-time firefighter in 1972. He was named fire chief in July 1990 and served until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2008. He graduated from Ivy Tech with a degree in fire science.

He was also a member of Chesterton Moose Lodge 1623 and Calumet Masonic Lodge 379. He served as past present of the Porter County Fire Association and the Indiana Volunteer Fire Association and belonged to numerous other fire-service groups and associations. And he was a former employee of Walsh Construction at Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

Funeral services, the Rev. Gerald Schweitzer officiating, are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 at St. Patrick Catholic Church. He will be interred at Chesterton Cemetery.

Visitation is scheduled from 2 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 at the Chesterton Fire Department, with a firefighters’ service at 6 p.m. and a Masonic service at 6:30 p.m.

Memorials may be made to the Chesterton Volunteer Fire Department.

Arrangements are being conducted by Edmonds & Evans Funeral Home, 517 Broadway in Chesterton.

Posted 1/23/2009