Posts Tagged Mark Nielsen

Chicago Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

Thirty-two members of the Chicago Fire Department’s top brass resigned their exempt positions Monday and returned to the rank-and-file in a fight over pay and benefits that will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The chiefs will return to their career service ranks of battalion chief and, in one case, paramedic field chief, but continue to act up in their exempt positions. That means they will now be eligible for overtime, holiday pay, duty availability, haz mat and other forms of supplemental and specialty pay afforded to members of the rank-and-file.

The 32 who resigned en masse effective at 8 a.m. Monday represent more than half of the chiefs on the fire suppression side of the CFD and just one of roughly a dozen bosses overseeing EMS.

The highest-ranking member is First Deputy Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II. Others include Mark Nielsen, deputy commissioner of the Fire Department’s Bureau of Operations, Michael Callahan, who oversees logistics, and Don Hroma, district chief of training.

The fire chiefs are seeking pension changes, expanded health insurance benefits and pay raises … which city officials say would require a change in the state pension code.

Fire officials must retire at age 63. But exempt officials must pay for their own health insurance until they hit 65. They also lose pay perks, including vacation time, when they become exempt staff members.

In addition, the state pension code doesn’t allow exempt fire officers to earn pension benefits based on their current salary. Instead, their pension benefits are based on the lower salary of their most recent union-covered job. That can result in a loss of thousands of dollars in pay each year. 

Pending state legislation known as a “brass bill” would allow exempt fire employees to earn a pension based on the pay for their current jobs. Many exempt officers are nearing retirement age and have signed a letter to the city warning they may return to the rank of battalion chief to improve their pensions and health insurance benefits before they leave the department.

Some rank-and-file members questioned why Mayor Emanuel didn’t just let the bosses quit and replace them instead of allowing them to return to their career service ranks in an arrangement with the potential to cost Chicago taxpayers a fortune. 

All 32 are closing in on the mandatory retirement age of 63. They have to self-demote two-to-four years before they retire to rebuild their pension before turning 63,” a source said.

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Chicago fire captain invents tool for high-rise fires

This from

The Chicago Fire Department’s newest tool to battle high-rise fires was invented by one of its own, Capt. Michael Wielgat.

The 26-year veteran of the department has on his own time over the last eight years developed the device, a remote-controlled, periscopelike pipe that can extinguish high-rise fires from the floor below by spraying up to 625 gallons per minute through a window. He calls it the “Hero Pipe.”

“As the years went on, I kept investing more and more, and at one point I was so deep into it I just couldn’t stop,” said Wielgat, 49, from a bedroom inside the Near West Side fire station that he commands.

So far, Chicago has bought one pipe and New York has bought four. Both departments have deployed the devices this year.

And this month, Wielgat and a representative from the company that manufactures the pipe, Elkhart Brass, are traveling to Israel later this month. The country wants a closer look. “We were fortunate that they stumbled across this,” said Eric Combs, Elkhart Brass’s director of marketing.

Although the Hero Pipe is only designed for high-rise fires, “there’s no product like [it],” Combs said. “This is insurance against that potentially extremely devastating fire.” Wielgat said officials in Beijing, Shanghai, Dubai and Mumbai, India, also have shown interest.

He said he first came up with the idea after witnessing as a firefighter the deadly 2003 fire in a Cook County office building at 69 W. Washington St. Then, about a year later, he saw another high-rise fire rip through the 29th floor of the LaSalle Bank building in the Loop.

The flames were out of reach of the department’s ladder trucks, and he said firefighters had a hard time controlling the dangerous blazes in close quarters from inside the buildings. So he started tinkering in his garage and built a prototype — then another, and another. The single father of three children took out a second mortgage on his Beverly home to keep the project going.

“I honestly thought the project would be a six- or eight-month project, and I’d be done,” he said. “It ended up being an eight-year process.” He said he hasn’t seen a return on his investment yet, but is hopeful he will soon because of  the device’s potential to save lives and property.

During the LaSalle Bank building fire, he said, flames gradually shot out of more and more windows “until there was about eight windows burning.” He said the fire that burned for 3½ hours “would have been out in the first 30 minutes” with the Hero Pipe.

Chicago Fire Department Lt. Ted Kramer said Wielgat’s invention is known throughout the department’s ranks. “It gives us definitely a sense of pride that one of our own is able to do that,” said the 38-year-old, who met Wielgat on his first assignment 17 years ago. “It’s a tool that we can really stand behind because it’s not some engineer in a lab that’s creating this. It’s a fireman who has real field experience.”

New York’s firefighters know of it as well. “I’ve been in the fire department for over 20 years,” said Capt. Mark Driscoll, who trains New York firefighters. “Guys have ideas all the time, [but] it’s very rare a guy takes his idea and an actual tool comes out of it.”

But the $50,000 device is a tough sell to cash-strapped cities.

Chicago has its one Hero Pipe placed with the city’s other high-rise firefighting gear at Wielgat’s station. The gear is sent to every confirmed high-rise fire.

A lot of attention was brought to high-rise fire safety this year when Illinois Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis proposed refitting every high-rise building in the city with costly fire sprinklers. He quickly backed down from his proposal at the urging of high-rise dwellers and politicians.

“Most fires in high-rises, if you close the door, will burn themselves out,” said Mark Nielsen, the Chicago Fire Department’s assistant deputy fire commissioner, at a safety meeting with Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) and condo owners in October. But when a door is left open, and wind fuels the fire from an open window, the fire could spread to hallways, he said.

He said neither New York nor Chicago has used the Hero Pipe on a fire outside of testing and training. “I know one day it’s going to put out a really bad fire, and that’s going to be the happiest day of my life — ’cause I’m really going to see it doing its job and protecting firemen and saving lives,” he said.

thanks Dan

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