Archive for September 21st, 2017

Oak Lawn Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Accepting a $1.35 million federal grant to hire seven firefighters might seem like a no-brainer for a municipality, but in Oak Lawn, where a rift between the village administration and its firefighters’ union has derailed contract negotiations in recent years, the decision isn’t so simple.

While the village board voted unanimously last week to accept the $1,347,952 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant — with the support of both the village manager and the firefighters union president — it’s far from a done deal.

Because the three-year grant requires the village pick up 25 percent of the new hires’ cost for the first two years and 65 percent of the cost in the third year, Oak Lawn would be on the hook for more than $930,000 if it appointed the seven additional firefighters.

For that reason, the village manager said he would recommend aborting the grant, which the village still has the ability to cancel, if the administration is unable to come to some agreement with the union on certain economic issues in the coming months.

Village officials declined to say what specifically they sought from the union in contract negotiations outside of a way to reduce overtime costs, which have ballooned to nearly $3 million per year.

The steep overtime price tag is driven by reduced staffing levels, which have been shrinking for years and are down more than 30 percent since the early 2000s, union president Vince Griffin said.

The village administration still considers the department bloated, despite its reduced manpower, and would like to see additional downsizing through attrition as firefighters retire in the coming years.

In spite of those sentiments, the village manager supported accepting the SAFER grant and increasing staff levels by seven because it’s expected to allow the village to significantly reduce overtime costs at a discount. The village is under no obligation to retain the seven new hires after the grant expires in three years if doing so is not financially prudent, officials said.

“This is about business, not public safety,” the village manager said at the Sept. 12 board meeting. “There’s no public safety be enhanced by accepting this grant. It’s to reduce overtime, stop hemorrhaging of the budget.”

A white paper authored by Fire Chief George Sheets estimates that to break even on the village’s $933,436 outlay, the department would need to reduce overtime by 710 work days over the next three years.

By Sheets’ calculations, the addition of seven firefighters would generate 700 extra work days per fiscal year, or 2,100 over the three-year lifespan of the grant.

Any additional savings beyond the $933,436 would be put toward the department’s long-term pension liabilities, officials said.

He would not say how much savings he anticipates realizing by accepting the grant and appointing additional firefighters, but made clear that simply breaking even —saving just enough to pay off the village’s $933,436 obligation but no more — was not sufficient.

Two factors that could impact the village’s savings are the pace of future retirements and the amount of time off firefighters request.

Even if the department gains seven new firefighters initially, as older firefighters retire — at least seven will be eligible to do so within the next three years — staffing could return to pre-grant levels or even lower in the coming years since the village does not intend to backfill all departures, officials said. For every firefighter who retires and is not replaced, Oak Lawn realizes less overtime savings from the new hires brought on through the grant.

Another uncertainty involves how firefighters respond to an increase in manpower.

If the larger staff size results in firefighters changing their sick leave and vacation habits in a way that increases the need for overtime, it could also put a dent in the savings, village officials said.

Griffin, the union president, said he believes that while technically possible, it is “highly improbable” that firefighters would change their sick leave and vacation habits as a result of staffing increases.

Griffin said that while he strongly supports Oak Lawn’s acceptance of the SAFER grant, he was not aware the village did not intend to replace all firefighters who retired.

Griffin added that the union views the grant and the successive collective bargaining agreement as mutually exclusive, and that he was not aware the village expected the union to compromise in some fashion as a condition of appointing additional firefighters.

He said he considered the SAFER grant a standalone — a mutually beneficial arrangement that would decrease overtime costs for the village and enhance firefighter life safety by reducing wear and tear on the department — and insisted the union had conveyed that to the village administration in previous discussions.

The upcoming contract negotiations, he said, were an entirely separate issue.

The administration takes a different view. By appointing seven new firefighters at a cost of $933,436 without the guarantee of recouping that money, it bears all the risk, officials said. The village therefore hopes to rectify that perceived imbalance with the union through compromise.

The parties are currently scheduled to begin negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement on Nov. 29 with two subsequent meeting dates planned for December. The department’s current contract, which was arbitrated earlier this year after negotiations stalled, ends on Dec. 31.

It remains to be seen whether the parties can work out a mutually agreeable deal that will allow the village to feel comfortable appointing seven new firefighters, but both sides said they had been encouraged by recent informal discussions about the SAFER grant and would bargain in good faith.

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New ambulance and Battalion Chief unit for the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District

This from Brendan Parker:

Here are pictures of our new shift commander vehicle (Battalion 4) out of station 1 and new ambulance out of Station 2 (Ambulance 452).

Captain Brendan Parker

Woodstock Fire/Rescue District

Woodstock Fire/Rescue District Battalion 4

Woodstock Fire/Rescue District Battalion 4. Brendan Parker

Woodstock Fire/Rescue DistrictAmbulance 452

Woodstock Fire/Rescue DistrictAmbulance 452. Brendan Parker

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Historic Chicago 3-11 Alarm fire, 5-23-82

This from Steve Redick:

5-23-82, Conrad Hilton Hotel, 720 S. Michigan Avenue:
This was quite the event. As I recall this was an arson fire set by a prostitute over a payment dispute. It could have been a disaster. Higgins was in the 1st Battalion and he always got the crazy incidents when he was working. You can hear Art Benker in the office, and also a brief appearance by “Brush Fire Bill” as the commissioner. I think I might have heard Bob Raicia (yes sir senator) in the mix as well….

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Historic 5-11 Alarm fire with multiple LODD in Chicago, 2-7-68 (more)

This from Eric Haak:

The following are rare images of the Mickelberry fire on February 7, 1968. The first image is the only image I know that shows the building before the 3rd explosion which leveled the plant. If you can view this image in a larger format, you can clearly see the people waiting on the roof to be rescued. There is at least one truck parked in front without it’s aerial up and there appears to be a chief or two looking up at the men on the roof. There is also either a truck or engine arriving northbound on Halsted. Image 2 was badly scratched and still has quite a bit of damage. Image 3 shows the helicopter used by Chief Quinn to access the scene. Image 4 shows the gasoline truck in the alley after it had been cleared of rubble. Many of the other images are self-explanatory. The last is damage that occurred to one of the rigs on scene.

early photo of the Mickelberry fire in Chicago

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

click image for large download

Chicago FD Snorkels work during the Mickelberry fire

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

vintage Chciago Police Department helicopter

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

tanker truck after explosion

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

classic Chicago firefighters at work from SS1 and SS2

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard J. Quinn and Mayor Richard J. Daley

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard J. Quinn and Mayor Richard J. Daley

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

aftermath of Mickelberry fire in Chicago

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

Chicago fire truck destroyed by fire

Eric Haak collection, photographer unknown

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