Posts Tagged Highwood Fire Department

On this day … Box Alarm fire in Highland Park, 3-15-06

for #throwbackthursday, some photos from this day in history, 2006. The Highland Park FD went to a Box Alarm for fire in a classic downtown building at 430 Park Aveune.

landmark building destroyed by fire

Larry Shapiro photo

More photos at Shapirophotography.net

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Highwood Fire Department disbands

This is from Niko Stefani via radioman911.com:

6/14/16 8:00 Hrs. Highwood FD disbanded after 126 years of service. Highland Park has absorbed their small fire district following a March 15 vote. The 30-year contract is reportedly projected to save $9.3M within the first decade. – Goodbye radio traffic from RED Center video by Niko Stefani

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Highwood to dissolve fire department

Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

Voters appear to have given the City of Highwood the go-ahead to dissolve the fire department so fire protection and paramedic services can be turned over to neighboring Highland Park.

At just after 9 p.m., with nearly 1,000 votes cast, the referendum question had 70 percent voting yes and and 30 percent voting no, according to unofficial Lake County election results.

The cities reached a 30-year agreement last fall for the Highland Park Fire Department to serve Highwood, a city of less than one square mile that is surrounded on all sides by Highland Park.

The deal hinged on Highwood voters agreeing to dissolve the local fire department in the March 15 referendum. If the referendum officially passes, Highland Park is scheduled to take over fire and paramedic services on July 1.

“This partnership will not only provide lasting financial benefits while maintaining high service levels,” Highwood Mayor Charles Pecaro said. “But also can become a model for municipalities seeking to share services with their neighbors.”

Highland Park’s Fire Station 34 at 1100 Half Day Road is located a few blocks west of Highwood’s western border, and the department already responds to many Highwood fire calls under automatic and mutual aid agreements.

Highland Park does not plan to hire any additional firefighters or paramedics, or acquire any additional equipment, saying its current staffing and equipment are sufficient.

Under the agreement, Highwood will pay Highland Park $625,000 the first year for fire and paramedic services, along with fire inspections. Annual increases will be tied to inflation, but capped at 5 percent.

Highwood expects to cut its current fire costs of $1.3 million by more than half under the arrangement.

Highwood Press Release:

March 15th Referendum Passage

The proposed Highwood & Highland Park fire and ambulance service partnership referendum that was included on the ballot passed yesterday. Voters confirmed the agreement that was unanimously approved by the City Councils of both Highwood and Highland Park to provide shared services to residents.

“This decision was not taken lightly by the City’s staff, elected officials or the Highwood voters,” said Scott Coren, Highwood’s City Manager. “Its passage shows residents’ confidence in Highland Park’s internationally accredited fire department. Their outstanding service levels, combined with the significant positive financial impact for both communities made this a prudent decision.”

In June 2014, the State of Illinois passed a law that requires municipalities to go to referendum, with specified language, to consolidate or provide shared fire and emergency medical services. The language is clearly slanted to push residents to vote against it. Highwood is the first municipality in Illinois to successfully pass this referendum question despite facing these obstacles.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to extend Highland Park’s exceptional fire, EMS and fire inspection services to the City of Highwood. We remain committed to providing high quality public safety services to both communities at all times and we will continue to keep public safety as one of our core priorities,” stated Ghida S. Neukirch Highland Park City Manager.

Thank you to everyone who provided their feedback on the matter.

Charles Pecaro
Mayor
City of Highwood

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Former Highwood Deputy Fire Chief on trial (more)

Excerpts from theChicagoTribune.com:

Four years after former Highwood Fire Department Deputy Chief Ronald Pieri was arrested on charges related to payroll fraud, a Lake County Circuit Court judge has found him guilty on a single count of false entry for falsifying time records. But Judge Victoria Rossetti found Pieri not guilty on two counts of official misconduct and two counts of theft of government property.

Sentencing on the lone conviction, a felony, is scheduled for Feb. 17. Pieri could face probation or up to five years in prison.

After the verdict, defense lawyer Richard Blass said he “respectfully disagrees” with the outcome, as he does not believe the state’s evidence supported a count of false entry beyond a reasonable doubt.

Before ruling on the case, Rossetti summarized the content of many of the state’s 45 exhibits, which contained thousands of pages of documents, as well as the testimony of key witnesses. She said Pieri was very familiar with the firehouse computer system for tracking personnel on duty, as he managed the system and taught others how to use it. He also was aware of the city’s personnel policies for fire employees.

Pieri stood trial this fall before Rossetti on felony charges related to the falsification of time records from January 2006 to December 2010.

During opening and closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Turk had portrayed Pieri as a disgruntled employee who felt he had been wronged and wanted to work a 9-to-5 job. Despite his job title, he was required to work a 24-hour shift every third day — like other firefighters in the small department, prosecution witnesses testified.

Pieri’s defense lawyers, Blass and Julie Trevarthen, said the state’s case was built on flawed, unreliable data, as evidenced by discrepancies in three sets of calculations created by the state’s fraud examiner in preparing the prosecution’s case. Moreover, the defense said the state’s analysis had assumed that if Pieri’s time sheets did not match the on-duty records kept in the firehouse computer system that the time sheets rather than the firehouse records were in error. An expert witness, Benjamin Wilner, had dismissed the time records as unreliable after finding an anomaly showing that a fire official had worked 1,500 hours in one day.

Pieri was arrested on criminal felony charges in fall 2011 and initially was placed on paid administrative leave by the city of Highwood pending an internal investigation. At the time of his arrest, Pieri was the highest-ranking member of the Highwood Fire Department, the husband of an alderman and the son of a former alderman.

He continued to draw his salary of about $66,000 until fall 2013, when city’s fire and police commissioners board voted 2-1 to suspend him without pay.

The commission has been awaiting the outcome of the criminal trial before considering his employment status.

“The burden is now on the city to take the next step, and that will continue now,” Pecaro said.

Previous posts can be found HERE

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Highland Park FD set to provide fire & EMS to Highwood

Excerpts from the DailyHerald.com:

The city of Highwood has reached agreements with its fire union and individual union members that clear the way for the municipality to dissolve its fire department and receive fire and paramedic services from the city of Highland Park. Highwood voters must first approve a referendum question on the March 15 ballot allowing the city to discontinue providing emergency services.

The two suburbs have worked out the terms of a 30-year contract for Highland Park to take over fire and paramedic services for its neighbor July 1, if Highwood voters approve the ballot question. Under the agreement, Highwood would pay Highland Park $625,000 the first year for emergency and fire inspection services. Annual increases would be tied to inflation but capped at 3 percent. The Highwood City Council was scheduled to vote on the agreement Nov. 17.

A key condition of the accord is that Highwood settle labor disputes with its union, a local of the International Association of Fire Fighters, over the dissolution of the department and the contracting of services before July 1. The pact also requires Highwood to settle grievances brought by three first-year firefighters who were dismissed last spring shortly before their probationary periods were set to expire. At the time, Highwood was reducing the number of full-time firefighters and paramedics, and preparing to contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois for some of its personnel. That plan was put on hold after the union grievances were filed, and the three dismissed firefighters were rehired as part-time employees.

Under the agreements worked out with the union, Highwood will make lump sum severance payments to five firefighters, including the dismissed employees, if the referendum passes. Part-time employees will be paid $25 for each 24-hour shift worked between November, 2015 and June 30, 2016, when the department would close if the referendum passes.

Meanwhile, the employees and the union have agreed not to make disparaging remarks about the city or its efforts to dissolve the fire department, or interfere with the referendum. The union has agreed not to ask the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, an advocacy organization, to become involved in the question of cessation or the referendum.

Highland Park’s Fire Station 34 at 1100 Half Day Road is located a few blocks west of Highwood’s western border, and municipal officials note the department already responds to many Highwood fire calls under automatic and mutual aid agreements. Highwood is less than one square mile and is surrounded on all sides by Highland Park.

Highwood expects to save $684,000 the first year, and is projecting $9.3 million in savings over the first decade of the agreement even if the yearly, inflation-based increases in payments to Highland Park are the maximum 3 percent.

Previous posts can be found HERE

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Former Highwood Deputy Fire Chief on trial

There has been an ongoing investigation and suspension of the former Highwood Fire Department deputy chief. An article from 2013 is HERE.

The issue is back in the news now as a trial has begun. There are a few recent articles on the subject.

Excerpts from theChicagoTribune.com:

Lake County prosecutor Scott Turk on Monday described Highwood’s former deputy fire chief as a “disgruntled employee” who “wanted to work 9 to 5 like everyone else.”

Delivering his opening statement in the long-delayed trial of Ronald Pieri, Turk said disgruntlement and greed led the former fire official to falsify time records and claim extra pay for work he could have performed during his regular 24-hour shift.

Turk said the state’s evidence would prove that Pieri is guilty of criminal felony charges of official misconduct, theft and false entry, and that his actions had cost Highwood taxpayers about $58,676 in pay, lost work time and benefits.

Meanwhile, Pieri’s defense lawyers pointed out that experts have produced three different sets of calculations and “corrected calculations” as to how Pieri should have been paid — evidence the state’s data is unreliable.

“It is this flawed, faulty and unreliable evidence on which the state’s entire case is based,” said defense lawyer Julie Trewarthen, in a brief opening statement.

After four years of delays and continuances, Pieri’s trial began Monday before Lake County Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti after Pieri waived his right to a jury trial. He was charged in 2011 with falsifying time records and claiming compensation to which he was not entitled between 2006 and 2010.

At the time of his arrest, Pieri was the highest ranking member of the Highwood Fire Department and the husband of a then-sitting alderwoman, as well as the son of a former alderman.

The only witness to take the stand Monday was former Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy, who headed the small department from late 2003 until early 2010. Lovejoy said Pieri, who had served as Highwood’s fire chief prior to his own arrival, was a shift commander in charge of one of the department’s three 24-hour shifts.

Pieri was named deputy fire chief in January 2007. Six months later, he was given a 20 percent pay raise and made an exempt employee, meaning he no longer was eligible for overtime pay.

Though city of Highwood policy required the fire chief’s approval on time sheets, Turk produced examples of time forms submitted by Pieri without the chief’s approval.

“It was not unusual for Ron Pieri to enter and submit time sheets to the city himself,” Lovejoy said.

“So there were some forms you did not see at all?” Turk asked.

“Very often,” Lovejoy replied.

The state’s attorney previously dropped the most serious charge of theft involving more than $100,000. Pieri still could face prison time and forfeiture of his firefighter’s pension for a felony conviction related to his employment.

The city of Highwood placed Pieri on paid administrative leave in 2011 pending an internal investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. He continued to draw his salary of about $66,000 until two years ago, when former Highwood City Manager Scott Hartman filed a formal complaint with the city’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. A few weeks later, the board voted 2-1 to suspend Pieri without pay.

Hartman’s complaint alleged that Pieri “falsely claimed and/or reported compensation time for work he could have performed, at least in part, during his regular shift.” The complaint alleged his actions had cost city taxpayers about $50,000 since the start of 2007.

Highwood’s fire and police board is awaiting the outcome of the criminal case before holding a hearing to determine if Pieri’s employment should be reinstated. The panel had hired the McGrath Consulting Group to conduct a study of how Pieri was paid, and whether his position fell under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The commission later decided not to apply the results of the study.

Pieri’s defense lawyers say that if anything, Pieri was underpaid for the hours worked, and have blamed the city’s poor record-keeping for the discrepancies.

The trial was expected to continue Tuesday with additional witnesses.

Excerpts from theChciagoTribune.com:

Several of Ronald Pieri’s colleagues from the Highwood Fire Department testified Tuesday afternoon about his work absences, early departures and time card disparities during the second day of the former deputy fire chief’s criminal trial in Lake County Circuit Court.

Among those taking the stand was Jason Noga, a Highwood firefighter and paramedic who was assigned to the red shift that Pieri supervised around 2006 and again around 2010.

Noga, a prosecution witness, said he would cover for Pieri when he was absent or left his shift early, and was responsible for putting the information into the department’s computerized scheduling system. Noga recalled that around 2008 or 2009, he was asked by Battalion Chief David Mohry to review the math in “a big stack” of Pieri’s time cards. He noted that in many instances, according to testimony, the time off had not been deducted from the bank of available time.

On Tuesday morning, defense lawyer Julie Trevarthen cross-examined Pieri’s one-time boss, former Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy about a favorable evaluation in mid-2007 that described Pieri’s performance as “outstanding” and noted that he “far exceeds the requirements for the job.”

Speaking of the performance evaluation, Lovejoy explained, “I was directed by the city manager that (Pieri) was going to be given a $20,000 pay raise and I should prepare a city memo” to support that.

“He was an excellent firefighter and paramedic and took a great number of tasks under his wing,” Lovejoy said.

According to earlier testimony, Pieri received the substantial pay raise in July 2007 when he became an exempt employee ineligible for overtime pay.

Lovejoy said he’d been pressured by high-ranking city officials to give Pieri the title of deputy fire chief, and finally agreed with the understanding that his duties would not change and he was still responsible for working one of the 24-hour shifts.

“A deputy chief’s position, in true fashion — totally administrative — was not feasible for the Highwood Fire Department,” Lovejoy testified.

Pieri became the highest-ranking member of the department in early 2010, when Highwood eliminated the chief’s position.

The trial is expected to resume Wednesday afternoon and continue all day Thursday.

Excerpts from another ChicagoTribune.com post:

A Highland Park economist testified Thursday morning that the numbers used by the Lake County state’s attorney’s office to bring criminal charges against Highwood’s former deputy fire chief changed significantly between three separate calculation attempts, calling into question the reliability of the data.

“When I see numbers change this dramatically, almost 10 years (after the records were created), that calls into question the reliability of the data,” said Benjamin Wilner, an economist with accounting firm Grant Thornton. “If you build a house on a shaky foundation, it is going to fall down. It is like garbage in, garbage out.”

Wilner was called as a defense witness on the fourth day of Ronald Pieri’s criminal trial before Lake County Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti. Pieri is being tried on charges of official misconduct, theft and false entry. Charged in 2011, Pieri is accused of falsifying time records and claiming compensation for hours not worked between January 2006 and December 2010.

Wilner testified that the prosecution had simply compared Pieri’s time cards with the log-in data on the Highwood Fire Department’s computer software, which did not take into account “non-fraud events” like days when Pieri was performing administrative duties.

“The prosecution’s model assumes that if there is a discrepancy between the firehouse software and the time cards, it must be fraud,” he said.

Before Pieri’s defense team opened its case Thursday, attorney Julie Trevarthen asked Rossetti to issue findings in favor of her client.

“I don’t think the state has come close to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Pieri defrauded Highwood,” she said.

Rossetti denied the request, citing specifically the testimony of former Chief Thomas Lovejoy that Pieri’s change from a shift commander to deputy fire chief was “a title change only” and he was expected to function as a shift commander on the red shift.

The trial is set to resume Thursday afternoon.

Excerpts from the Chicagotribune.com:

On the third day of Ronald Pieri’s criminal trial in Lake County Circuit Court, a fraud analyst for the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office detailed the steps that led her to conclude that that the former Highwood Deputy Fire Chief had defrauded Highwood taxpayers of more than $58,000.

For 3 1/2 hours, Susannah Huber, a criminal intelligence analyst for Lake County prosecutors, answered questions about the calculations that showed disparities between the hours Pieri had claimed on his time cards and what the fire department’s FIREHOUSE computer software showed that he’d worked.

Asked about her conclusion, Huber said, “There were misrepresentations that would lead a reasonable person to believe that fraud was being committed.”

Defense lawyer Julie Trevarthen pointed out that an audit by the McGrath Consulting Group, conducted at the request of the City of Highwood, had found that Pieri’s position could not be classified because he was both an administrator and a firefighter. The study had concluded that no fraud had been committed. “Did you take that into your analysis?,” Trevarthen asked. “You treated his hours as if he was a non-exempt employee.”

“I treated him as being responsible for being on his shift,” Huber replied.

On Monday, Pieri’s former boss, Highwood Fire Chief Thomas Lovejoy, testified that he’d been pressured by Highwood Mayor Vincent Donofrio and Pieri’s father, Highwood Alderman Walter Pieri, to give Pieri the title of Deputy Fire Chief. Lovejoy said he’d finally agreed in January, 2007 with the understanding that Pieri’s duties would not change and he was still responsible for working his 24-hour shift. In July of 2007, he became an exempt employee and was given a $20,000 pay raise.

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Highwood may supplement manning with contract personnel (more)

Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

The City of Highwood has taken a first step toward privatizing its fire department.

City Council members voted 4-2 on June 2 to contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois to supply the department with two firefighter/paramedics per shift, or one-half of the staffing on duty at all times. The City of Highwood will pay Paramedic Services of Illinois about $411,000 the first year to provide six firefighter/paramedics exclusively to the City of Highwood to cover three shifts per day, seven days a week.

Highwood’s four full-time firefighter/paramedics and a pool of part-time personnel will fill out the schedule to ensure that four people are on duty throughout each 24-hour day.

The city recently laid off three full-time, first-year firefighters/paramedics shortly before their probationary period expired.

Highwood Ald. Eric Falberg, who supported the PSI proposal, noted that Highwood’s heavy reliance on part-time people to supplement its full-time force has been difficult to manage in the past, and the city has lacked the flexibility to hold over part-timers into the next shift.

But Ald. Mike Fiore felt strongly that Highwood taxpayers would willingly take on a tax increase in order to hire more full-time personnel. “In my opinion, these (contract) guys are all inexperienced,” Fiore said. “They just came out of the academy and can’t find a gig.”

Also opposed to the move was Ald. Andy Peterson, who felt the city should be looking instead to sharing services with neighboring municipalities. “I am not convinced that supplementing our full-time staff with contract employees — no matter how reputable the firm — is going to maintain or improve the current quality of service,” said Peterson, who agreed the current cost structure of providing services is not sustainable.

Speaking to concerns about contract employee turnover, Mike Hansen, vice president of Paramedic Services of Illinois, acknowledged that employees often leave to work in a municipal fire department for higher pay and pension benefits. Hansen also serves as fire chief for the Village of Lincolnwood, which relies exclusively on Paramedic Services of Illinois to staff its department.

“I am not here to necessarily convince you to (use our service),” said Hansen, acknowledging the advantages and disadvantages. “All I can tell you is our residents appreciate our service.” He added they are particularly appreciative two times a year when their property tax bills come out. “We save our community’s taxpayers about $1.3 million a year in pension liability costs,” he said.

Previous posts are HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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Highwood may supplement manning with contract personnel (more)

Excerpts from an editorial in theChicagotribune.com:

As the City of Highwood, Illinois investigates the opportunity to supplement their fire department with personnel from a private firefighting firm, they want to assure the community that safety and protection will not be compromised.

City Manager Scott Coren cites revenue and a small tax base less than a square mile in size to draw from as the biggest factors in asking private firms for proposals, stating, “Highwood must continue to keep down the cost of our current services in order to have enough money to improve upon city infrastructure such as streets and sidewalk repairs.” Mayor Charles Pecaro added, “With the uncertain financial situation in the State of Illinois, we need to operate a sustainable city, keeping in mind the high costs of pensions and workers compensation.”

The contracting of fire department personnel joins other services such as snow plowing, maintaining the grass on many streets and public parks, building reviews and inspections, payroll, financial planning, fueling services, police dispatching and more, that are filled by contractors.

“Outsourcing city-wide needs has proven highly effective in the past. We now look at the potential to deliver our fire services safely and efficiently through contractors,” says Coren. “We will control the requirements for hiring and ensure all contractual employees have the proper certifications.”

With the money saved, Highwood can begin to address immediate infrastructure needs such as the fixing of city roads and sidewalks. “We’ve already had to increase taxes to address these issues in the past,” says Coren. “Not making changes like the one we are faced with now will only result in additional tax increases. We must be efficient with our limited tax dollars.”

thanks Chris

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Highwood may supplement manning with contract personnel (more)

As a followup to the recent post where we noted that Highwood may supplement manning with contract personnel, a web site apparently created by the Highwood firefighters was brought to our attention with the following information as the first blog post:

On April 5, 2015, the Highwood Fire Department received a letter from the Highwood City Council informing us that they were considering replacing the city’s full-time, union firefighters with contractors. They informed us in both the letter and at a Council Planning Meeting on April 8 that they would decide on the future of the Highwood Fire Department by May 8, 2015.

In order to make sure that there is no confusion in the community as to what’s actually happening. we’ve set up this site to explain to the residents we’ve proudly served for more than 100 years why Highwood needs a full-time, professional fire department dedicated to serving this unique community.

Through a series of posts over the next few weeks, we will detail the unique skills and firefighting experience that we bring as full-time Highwood firefighters.

We look forward to hearing from you.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call us at 847-432-7622, or stop by the firehouse at 428 Green Bay Road, Highwood, IL. We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would be happy to answer any questions you have about what will definitely be a life-altering decision for us, as well as the residents of Highwood.

If you support us, we’d appreciate you sharing our facts and our story with other members of the community, as well as your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc..

We have been proud to serve Highwood, and we look forward to continuing to serve you for years to come.

Sincerely,

The men and women of the Highwood Fire Department

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Highwood may supplement manning with contract personnel

Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

The City of Highwood may contract with a private firm for the services of some firefighters and paramedics to ensure the level of staffing required for fire-insurance rating purposes.

According to City Manager Scott Coren, the Highwood Fire Department must have four people on duty to retain the  rating from the Insurance Services Office. The four-person staffing level also is required under Highwood’s collective bargaining agreement with its fire union, an affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Under automatic-aid agreements, the city also is served by the Highland Park and Lake Forest departments and is available to assist them in return.

On April 8, the Highwood City Council, in a narrow 4-3 vote, directed staff to negotiate a contract with Kurtz Paramedic Services or another firm to provide supplemental full-time firefighters and ensure that Highwood maintains minimum manning requirements. The small department that serves the city of 5,400 residents currently has four full-time non-probationary firefighters/paramedics. A fifth full-time employee is within the probationary period. The full-time workforce is supplemented by part-time employees.  The council’s vote triggered a 30-day waiting period required by fire union contract. An agreement could be finalized as early as mid-May.

There are no plans to lay off the full-time, non-probationary firefighters/paramedics should the city contract with a private firm for supplemental personnel, the manager said.

Kurtz currently employs more than 750 people as firefighters and paramedics, according to Tom Vana, president and chief executive officer of the firm. It holds contracts with 26 municipalities and fire protection districts. Its client list includes the municipalities of Wheaton, Bensenville, Lyons, Tinley Park, Westmont and Crete and fire protection districts in South Chicago Heights, Frankfort and Plainfield.

Vana told the council the average experience of the firm’s firefighter/paramedic employees is a little less than 15 years. Should the firm win the contract, preferential hiring would be extended to Highwood employees unless an employee assigned elsewhere requests a transfer to work in Highwood, he said.

Addressing the Highwood City Council the night of the vote, Fire Battalion Chief David Mohry expressed concerns over the impact even a few private employees would have on a department of Highwood’s size. He also expressed worry about the rate of turnover.

thanks Dan

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