Excerpts from the rblandmark.com:

After a little more than seven months on the job, North Riverside’s fire chief and deputy fire chief are out after the Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. informed them of a change in direction during a brief meeting in the mayor’s office at the village commons on July 13.

According to Hermanek, Chief Tom Gaertner and Deputy Chief Patrick Schey resigned, but Gaertner told the Landmark he was fired and that he hadn’t submitted a letter of resignation. Neither man was offered a severance package; neither had an employment contract with the village.

“I’m shocked and I’m upset about it,” said Gaertner in a telephone interview with the Landmark. “There was no reason for it, because we weren’t doing anything wrong.” Gaertner said he believed the cordial relationship he and Shey had with union firefighters was frowned upon by Hermanek.

Gaertner said Hermanek would not specify the reasons behind the change, and that the meeting in the mayor’s office lasted about 10 minutes. “It’s all political,” said Gaertner. “I didn’t fit their political agenda. I think politicians need to put their personal agendas aside and do what’s best for the people in this town.”

Asked by the Landmark about the move, Hermanek said he could not publicly talk about his reasons for making the change. While saying the two men resigned, Hermanek admitted that he’d been conducting a secret search for a new fire chief for the past month. While Hermanek wouldn’t state any specific reasons for the departures of Gaertner and Schey, there are clear indications that the administration didn’t like the rapport the two chiefs had built with rank-and-file union firefighters.

Shortly after informing Gaertner and Schey of the change, Scott Bowman was hired as the fire department’s interim chief. Bowman most recently served as assistant fire chief for the Oak Lawn Fire Department. Hermanek called Bowman eminently qualified, more than any chief in our village’s history. “I’m satisfied [Bowman] will do things that are in the best interest of the village,” said Hermanek.

Bowman, who will officially be sworn in at the village board’s August meeting, moved into his office at the North Riverside fire station shortly after Gaertner and Schey collected their belongings and left. Bowman reportedly met with on-duty firefighters after arriving at the fire station to inform them of the situation.

Deputy Police Chief Christian Ehrenberg and Commander Dion Bobo accompanied Gaertner and Schey as they packed boxes in their offices. Police then drove the two men home from North Riverside.

Firefighter Chris Kribales, president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714, called Gaertner one of the best chiefs in the department’s history. Union firefighters have been working without a contract since May 1, 2014. Both sides are scheduled to appear before a labor arbitrator on July 24 and July 31.  Kribales said the chiefs’ ability to work with union firefighters could only have hurt them in the eyes of the village’s administration. “I believe the fact that these two worked with labor to move forward hindered them immensely,” Kribales said.

Asked if such an assessment of the situation was accurate, Hermanek responded, “That’s probably true. The chief and deputy chief work for the administration.”

For the past four years, the administration and the fire union have been engaged in a bitter battle over staffing, including a failed attempt by the village through the courts to privatize the fire department.

In the face of attempts to break the union, firefighters responded by publicly supporting rival candidates for mayor and trustee, including Village Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, who has long championed union firefighters’ causes. During his 2015 run for mayor, Demopoulos dubbed his political committee “Save Our Firefighters.”

thanks Dan