Posts Tagged Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets

Fire departments share fire chief

Excerpts from the

Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge have shared a fire chief since 2014, and by mutual agreement between the neighboring villages, Chief George Sheets will continue wearing two hats for at least four more years.

The Oak Lawn Village Board passed the new intergovernmental agreement to continue the arrangement last week without much comment, and the Chicago Ridge Village Board followed suit at its meeting on Tuesday.

Oak Lawn, being the larger community, covers two-thirds of Sheets’ salary, in addition to benefits, and Chicago Ridge is responsible for one-third. The exact salary agreement was not available this week, but it costs the Chicago Ridge about $50,000 annually. Sheets, who lives in Oak Lawn, said the agreement calls for the Chicago Ridge portion of the salary to increase by 5 percent each year.

The relationship between management and members of the firefighters union in Oak Lawn has been difficult at times in recent years, primarily due to staffing and other issues that have led to lawsuits. But everyone in Chicago Ridge seems to agree that having Sheets on board has worked out very well.

Prior to the vote on Tuesday, Chicago Ridge Fire Lt. Chris Schmelzer, president of the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Union Local 3098, sent Tokar a glowing recommendation letter regarding Sheets’ value to the department, and asked him to share it with the trustees.

Schmelzer cited several accomplishments that have been achieved under Sheets’ leadership in Chicago Ridge, including the introduction of a part-time firefighter program in which part-time and full-time staff work together. This has also allowed for the opening of the Lombard Avenue fire station. That station initially opened part-time, but was expanded to full-time this year, providing ambulance service to the main residential section of the village.

Last year, there was talk that he might leave the Chicago Ridge role after seeing projects through to completion, including the part-time program and the opening of the Lombard Avenue station.

He splits his days between the two villages, and their close proximity allows him to travel between his offices quickly.

thanks Dan

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Chicago Ridge Fire Department news

Excerpts from

Members of the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Union presented Fire Chief George Sheets with the first George W. Sheets Award for professionalism, progress and results during the past 21/2 years that he has led the department. It will now be awarded annually to a member of the department.

Chicago Ridge Fire Department Capt. Chris Bennett said Sheets deserved the award named after him. The plan is to present the award annually to a deserving member of the department who shows the qualities emblazoned on the plaque: professionalism, progress, and results.

Bennett said a lot of improvements have been made in the department in the 21/2 years since Sheets took over as chief. He cited the creation of the part-time firefighter program, with fully-trained part-time firefighters working alongside the 13 full-time firefighters as one of Sheets’ accomplishments. He said Sheets has also expanded the role of paid on-call firefighters, a program that grew out of the department that was made up of volunteer firefighters.

Bennett said the success of the part-time firefighter program is allowing the department to keep the village’s second firehouse, at 107th and Lombard Avenue, open 24/7, starting in mid-February. For the past year, since it was reopened in April 2015, it has been open 12 hours a day. Currently, ambulances are based at the station, but eventually fire equipment will be, too. Officials said having it open has reduced response times by more than two minutes.

“This system is better than under past administrations, when we had three deputy chiefs who were only administrators and shift commanders. They could not work any equipment. Now, as a captain, in addition to being a shift commander, I can go out on calls to monitor the situation. We now have enough people to man two ambulances, and we don’t need to look for help from neighboring communities as much as we once did,” said Bennett.

“The bottom line is, (Sheets) is a great delegator, and we are getting things done. He protects this town more than it ever has been before.”

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Fire departments will no longer share fire chief (more)

Excerpts from the

George Sheets has been fire chief of both Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge for nearly two years now, and the arrangement has worked out so well that all talk of giving up one of the positions has gone by the wayside.

“This was a concept that had never been done before is done now,” said Sheets, who became Oak Lawn fire chief in 2009, and added Chicago Ridge in July 2014, following discussions between Mayors Sandra Bury of Oak Lawn and Chuck Tokar in Chicago Ridge. His salary is shared by the villages, saving Chicago Ridge about $65,000 annually

“Some people doubted it would work. But it has been a success story,” said Sheets during a wide-ranging interview on Monday, when he discussed the improvements made to the Chicago Ridge department while cutting costs as well.

Last summer he considered going back to Oak Lawn full-time, after he oversaw the opening of the second Chicago Ridge fire station on Lombard Avenue, and the successful implementation of the part-time firefighter program. But now, he said, with the encouragement of Tokar and the village trustees, he has decided to there is no need to change what isn’t broken.

“We’ve been able to increase personnel by 50 percent, while saving the village $350,000 over the past year in the operating budget,” he said. The refurbished Lombard Street station is staffed 12 hours a day by both part-time and full-time firefighters, with everyone going through the same training.

‘It has worked out better than people thought. We’ve got labor-management harmony too,” he said.

“I’m not a micromanager. I expect excellence, but I let them do their jobs, and my door is always open for suggestions,” said the chief. This style has led to improved morale, according to many in the department.

There are now 21 full-time firefighter/paramedics, including three lieutenants, and 13 part-timers on staff. The village also has about a dozen paid on-call firefighters.

“It has been a great learning experience. We all work together and all these guys have been very helpful,” said Alec Kowalczyk, a part-time firefighter from Palos Heights, who hopes to become full-time eventually.

The success of the fire department’s advancements actually earned the village of Chicago Ridge the James Baird Leadership Award for 2015 from the Illinois Public Employer Labor Relations Association.

Sheets said that with the opening of the new fire station, a second ambulance was put in service, reducing response times by nearly two minutes, and by purchasing a quint last year for $650,000, he said the village actually saved more than $2 million in replacement costs.

“Any time you implement change, there is going to be concerns, But (with Sheets) there is no personal agenda and no political agenda,” said firefighter/paramedic Victor Kiman, explaining the friendly relationship between management and labor.

“Years ago, it was contentious. It seems to be really improved. The communication channels back and forth are always open. That helped a lot,” said Lt. Bob Eggert.

thanks Dennis

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Fire departments will no longer share fire chief

Excerpts from the

Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn have agreed to end their yearlong experiment in sharing a fire chief.

After Chicago Ridge hires a full-time chief, George Sheets will return to only running the Oak Lawn Fire Department. Sheets said he asked to be relieved so he could focus solely on being Oak Lawn’s chief, a position he has held for six years.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said the village will miss Sheets, but “he said he won’t leave until we find a suitable replacement, even if that takes three or six months.” … and the unusual arrangement of towns sharing a fire chief  “was going well and I wish we could continue it.” But the pressures of running two fire departments is demanding.

Sheets has held both positions during the past year, spending roughly two days in Chicago Ridge each week. He replaced Robert Muszynski, who resigned in 2014 citing personal differences with some village officials, specifically Tokar, over possible changes to the fire department.

At the time, Tokar wanted to reopen the firehouse at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue without hiring the seven to eight firefighters that Muszynski said were needed to staff it. The station was reopened by using part-timers. An ad running on the website of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association praises Sheets’ accomplishments in Chicago Ridge — including reopening the fire station and reducing personnel costs — and says the new chief’s salary will be negotiated based upon experience.

Besides getting the long-closed station reopened, Sheets started a part-time firefighter program that now has 11 members and will likely expand to about 15. He said the part-timers allow Chicago Ridge to have six firefighters on duty each shift, more than in the past, and the process is working well. Now, the station at 107th and Lombard is only open 12 hours a day but will go to 24 hours by August, he said.

Chicago Ridge had been paying one-third of Sheets’ salary, or $37,695, under an agreement between the two village boards last July.

Chicago Ridge has 13 full-time firefighters and 23 either part-time or paid-on-call firefighters. The fire department budget is $2.7 million for fiscal 2015, and the department answers about 2,600 calls annually … most of those are medical in nature.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said neither she nor the trustees demanded that Sheets return to full-time duty there. “No, no, no,” she said. “Everyone benefits from shared resources.”

thanks Dan

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Chicago Ridge to staff 2nd station

Excerpts from a Southtown Star article about changes in Chicago Ridge:

For the first time in many years, the Lombard Avenue fire station in Chicago Ridge soon will be staffed with full-time firefighters and also will provide ambulance service, now that the village and fire union have agreed to hire several part-time firefighters.

The agreement means the station, 10658 Lombard Ave., will be staffed at all times by two full-time firefighter/paramedics, starting in about three weeks, along with a yet to be determined number of part-timers, who also must be certified as paramedics. Sheets said response times for calls east of Ridgeland Avenue will be shorter through the new staffing at the Lombard Avenue station, which for years has not been manned.

Fire Chief George Sheets said using part-timers will enable the village to provide better fire and emergency medical services that it otherwise could not afford while also give the fire department more flexibility in handling multiple calls.

Chicago Ridge has 13 full-time firefighter/paramedics with a median salary of $65,000, and using part-timers will be much more cost-effective because of reduced overtime and … not paying health benefits and pensions.

The staffing of the Lombard Avenue station means the fire department will have two stations operating. The other station, 10063 Virginia Ave., opened in 2009.

thanks Dan

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Chicago Ridge Fire Department (update)

An article in the Reporteronline looks describes current challenges with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department:

The Chicago Ridge Fire Department remains at odds with village officials over a variety of hot-button issues including what the firefighters union describes as a “staffing crisis.”

“We are currently faced with more issues than I care to count,” Chris Schmelzer, president of the Chicago Ridge Firefighter’s Union, wrote in an Dec. 13 email to Trustee Bruce Quintos obtained Monday by the Reporter.

“First on the list is the absolutely outlandish possibility of staffing a second station using only current personnel resources. To staff a firehouse with two people is unsafe, reduces services to the entire town, and just simply doesn’t make sense,” Schmelzer wrote.

In an interview Monday, Schmelzer said poor communication between Fire Chief George Sheets and the firefighters remains a serious problem. “There is no communication. We’re coexisting. We’re doing things under threat of discipline,” said Schmelzer, who added the teamwork that existed at the house has transformed into a ”dictatorship.”

Mayor Chuck Tokar said Monday that plans to reopen the Lombard Avenue fire station by Christmas have been delayed until the end of January. But he contends that the decision is a good one. The station will be open 12 hours a day during the period that the fire department receives the most calls, Tokar said.

The decision to reopen the Lombard station was made because it is located closer to the village’s residential area than the fire station in the village’s industrial park. Additionally, providing ambulance service from the Lombard Station would reduce the number of times service is provided by neighboring communities—a service for which residents must pay, Tokar said.

But union officials said there are drawbacks to the plan to decrease response times. “While some residents may see a short decrease in response times for an ambulance, under the new plan, fire protection is eliminated within the entire town every time we get an ambulance call. “The new plan calls for two ambulances to respond to every call, reducing fire response within the village by 100 percent. Nobody is left to answer the next call,” Schmelzer wrote in his email. “To blindly place all of the village’s already limited resources into an ambulance response is short-sighted at best.”

He added that two firefighters who retired in 2014 and were not replaced, a move that places a strain on the department.

“We run with a four-person minimum per shift, as anything less than that would be unsafe, according to all applicable consensus standards, past practice and common sense. Two of the three shifts are currently staffed with four people, creating overtime whenever a member is off,” he said.

“With all but one member having over 10 years seniority on the department and having the commensurate accrued time off, someone is scheduled off the majority of the time. On these shifts, overtime is created every single time someone is off,” Schmelzer said.

“Don’t believe everything that you hear,” he said, adding that decisions regarding the fire department with “the input and cooperation of the union.” “I understand the union’s position, but I represent the taxpayers of Chicago Ridge,” Tokar said.

The union also has issues with the village’s recent decision to purchase a quint, a fire apparatus that has a pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders.

Purchase of the quint led the fire department to remove from the fleet an aerial truck and two pumper trucks, one that is badly rusted and requires significant repair, Sheets said. Those vehicles will be sold and the proceeds will be used to help pay for the quint, he said. The quint will cost $685,000, which will be offset by the $250,000 the village expects to receive for the sale of the three vehicles it is removing from the fleet. A $350,000 state loan could be used to pay for the bulk of the balance, Sheets said.

“To spend three quarters of a million dollars on a vehicle that will, according to the new response plan issued by the department, only be staffed with two people seems like an improper use of resources,” Schmelzer said.

thanks Dan

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Chicago Ridge to buy quint

The has an article about the new Chicago Ridge fire chief introducing a quint to Chicago Ridge as he did in Oak Lawn:

Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets promised to improve efficiencies when he took control of the department in July and he’s wasted little time working toward that goal. Sheets outlined a plan at Tuesday’s village board meeting designed to reduce by 50 percent the department’s vehicle maintenance budget by upgrading the fleet of trucks.

The department currently spends about $60,000 to maintain 11 vehicles … He maintains that figure is too high considering that the Oak Lawn Fire Department has a $50,000 maintenance budget for 18 vehicles. Sheets knows that first-hand because he also serves as fire chief in Oak Lawn.

Sheets called for Chicago Ridge officials to purchase a quintuple combination pumper, or quint, an apparatus that serves the dual purpose of an engine and ladder truck.

“It combines several vehicles into one,” said Sheets, who added that the truck features that latest technology tools used in firefighting.

The vehicle does not come cheap. Sheets estimated that a demo unit would cost the village about $650,000. But state or federal grants could help offset the cost, he said. The village board did not approve a purchase, as some trustees expressed a desire to see the quint up close. Sheets, however, was authorized to negotiate a deal for the truck with the manufacturer. The chief told the trustees that a 4 percent increase in the purchase price of a quint is expected soon. He added that demo models do not stay on the market for long because of the discounted price.

“We need to consolidate some of the apparatuses,” Sheets said. “It will make us more efficient. Vehicle maintenance costs can’t continue to escalate.” Specifically, Sheets proposed removing from the fleet an aerial truck and two pumper trucks, one that is badly rusted and requires significant repair. Sheets said he was offered $164,000 for the three trucks, but is holding out for more.

In September … after learning that the firefighters responded to 86 [false alarms] in 2013 [he] called for stiffer penalties and increasing fines 300 percent. He said that a village ordinance lacked the teeth to reduce false alarms. The ordinance required business owners to pay $25 for each false alarm beginning with the seventh call. The fee is now $100 beginning with the second false alarm, Sheets said.

Sheets also recommended an increase in the ambulance rate after realizing that the village’s rate was one of the lowest in the region. The fee had not been increased in six years.

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