Longtime Vienna police officer and current fire chief Floyd Koehler will retire on May 31. Koehler has been a servant of the City of Vienna for over 36 years. He began his career with the city as a volunteer fireman and was later hired as a part-time police officer in 1978.
Koehler was named the city’s fire chief in 2008 after the retirement of chief Bob Hook.
As a former educator, Koehler taught science at Goreville High School for 33 years. He retired from Goreville Schools in 2004. He has also taught classes for Southeastern Illinois College, when the college held classes at the Vienna Correctional Center. He served Southeastern for over 20 years.
Many of Floyd’s years as educator, patrolman and fireman overlapped while holding a full-time day job and two and three night jobs at the same time.
As a Vienna police officer, Koehler has served under the leadership of four chiefs; Mike Gray, Neal Watkins, Tim Bennett and current chief Jim Miller.
When asked what have been some of the biggest changes in his law enforcement career Koehler said, “I’ve seen the call volume probably increase four-fold since I started. And the type of calls someone would call in and say, ‘I’m having trouble with my kid,’ and when you get there it’s a 4 year-old,” he said. “I’m not kidding you!” he added.
“I went to [a call] one time, it was about a 10 or 11 year-old boy. The mother says I can’t spank him, and I said, ‘well why not?'” Koehler tells.
“She said, ‘Well he said he would call DCFS,’ I said, ‘mom I’m a witness,'” Floyd continues. “The first person they’re going to call is [police] to come check. I said (to the mom) ‘Spank him!'”
“I’m not sure what he did,” he added, “I said spank his butt.”
“The kid said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Sure can.'”
Koehler continued the story, “I told the kid there is nothing in any law that says a parent cannot use corporal punishment on their child, if that is the punishment they choose to use. It [the law] says that they will not physically abuse you. A paddle on your butt is not going to hurt long. Now, I will stand here and I’ll make sure that your mother does not abuse you!” Koehler said.
“I’ll also tell her if she is hitting you hard enough and if she isn’t, I will also tell her to increase it!”
Koehler raised his hands in front of his face and said, “His eyes got about that big around. I told him you cannot call DCFS on your mother for spanking you. Where did you get that idea? The boy said, ‘some kids told me.’ I said, ‘well you can’t!’ You know, I never went back to that residence!” Koehler said.
He went on to say, “So much has changed in the years, as far as call volumes, with little increase of Vienna’s population.”
“I used to set at the Vienna intersection and may not see a car for an hour,” he said. “The traffic through Vienna has increased ten-fold since I started.”
Changes over his career in the Vienna fire department are also an exciting adventure for Floyd.
During the interview for this story, it was obvious that Floyd has a passion for fire fighting.
“Whenever I started with the fire department, we responded with a 1956 pumper with 500 gallons of water on it. We had 15 volunteer firemen,” he tells.
“I’m not sure how many departments there were at that time, but our department covered most of the county at the time,” he said. “I don’t think Buncombe or Belknap had departments then, Im not sure. Now we have 30 people on the department and can carry 3700 gallon on our four trucks/pumpers,” Koehler said.
The fire department has built a larger fleet of vehicles and updated equipment over the years since Koehler began.
“We now have what I call a seven-bay fire station now,” he added.
Two other big changes in Floyd’s career were the 9-11 attack and the advancements of communications.
“9-11 changed everything across the country, including Vienna and Johnson County,” he said. “Law enforcement and fire department personnel are required to have additional training since the attack. Since 9-11, we have to prepare for terrorists,” Koehler said.
“The required training for firemen has increased ten-fold since 9-11,” he said. “Being able to recognize such things as bomb-threat situations in schools and other threats [of terrorism] is part of the training. It’s amazing how many of these courses I have taken in the last ten years.”
According to Koehler, many of Homeland Security’s training is also required for many municipal employees and elected officials.
“The training is a good thing,” Koehler said. “EMS, FEMA, fire, police personnel and many elected officials are all required to have the special training. I’m not sure how many elected officials have successfully completed their required training courses,” he added.
“The problem is, they are geared more to the full-time, big city and fully staffed departments. It’s hard to train volunteer firemen when they have full-time jobs and limited hours through the week,” he added.
“Communications is another thing,” the chief said. “When I started the communications was a low band pager, no cell phone, no two-way radios. The portable radios then weighed about five pounds and were big. They may have reached from here to the top of the hill,” Floyd said as he was pointing across the golf course at Vienna.
Floyd gave a comparison of the new communications technology.
“The other day, I was at the Anna fairgrounds and was able to reply to a page from the Vienna fire department,” he said. “A big thing I can see as being advantageous over time, if they get to using it like they should, is the new Call-Them-All system.”
Koehler said, “Advances in the communications is a big, big difference over the years.”
During the interview with Koehler, he talked about radio communications problems with the Illinois State Police (ISP). According to Koehler, the ISP recently switched to mostly digital radios.
“Many of the ISP vehicles no longer have low band or high band frequency radios in their units,” he stated. Koehler added, “Former [ISP] Commander Harry Massey said when it works, it’s great, but if it isn’t working, you’re screwed.”
Koehler went on to say, “It used to be that if I was making a stop on the interstate, it was not uncommon to see the black Crown Victorian of Massey’s or another state squad pulling up behind me. Now that they do not all have our frequencies and by the time they receive a message on the state-wide frequency, it may take longer for them to respond,” he said.
Vienna mayor Jon Simmons said, “Floyd has been a real good cop for Vienna, and a really good fire chief.”
Vienna Police chief Jim Miller said, “I will miss Floyd after 22 years of working with him. I was 19 when I started as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office, and Floyd was one of the first policeman that always took time to explain various types of police and fire calls.
“Since then, I have worked with him on many criminal cases and other type of police matters over the years. Floyd was always an officer I could depend on to assist or be called-out to help in an emergency. He was always willing to help in such instances as a prison-escapee manhunt, police pursuits, burglaries and thefts over the years,” Miller said.
Koehler said he plans to continue serving as a volunteer on the fire department. He will also continue serving on the Johnson County 9-11 Board. He currently is president of the Vienna Cemetery Board and the Southern Illinois Police Association.
He is secretary of the Masonic Lodge and secretary/treasurer of Johnson County Bass Club.
During the interview with Floyd, it was obvious that his strongest passion in life is helping other people.