Posts Tagged Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago

Chicago Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Closing in on the mandatory retirement age of 63, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago is still awaiting word on whether he will be forced out or allowed to stay on as a civilian commissioner. Preoccupied with more pressing concerns, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has delayed the decision for so long, Santiago will turn 63 before the city council reconvenes in September, when a vote could be taken on an ordinance permitting him to stay on. That means that, unless Emanuel makes a change, an executive order would be needed to temporarily allow it.

There is precedent for civilians at the helm of Chicago’s public safety departments. Former Mayor Jane Byrne had a civilian fire commissioner in William Blair. The Chicago Police Department has had two civilian superintendents.

Santiago was chosen in February, 2012 to replace Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, one of the most decorated firefighters in the city’s history. Hoff abruptly announced his retirement after declaring that he was deathly against closing fire houses or reducing the minimum staffing requirement on fire apparatus — the issue that triggered the bitter 1980 firefighters strike.

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Chicago Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved Thursday to deliver on the promise he made and ignored nearly four years ago: To put at least five more advanced life support ambulances on the street. He gave Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago a March 31 deadline to make specific recommendations on how many more ambulances Chicago needs — in addition to the 75 advanced life support ambulances — and where they should be located.

The cost of purchasing and staffing five more ambulances was pegged at $10 million. The mayor’s 2018 budget does not include that appropriation.

Santiago responded to the mayor’s mandate by sending a letter to the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 requesting a meeting no later than the second week of January to discuss additional ambulances.  “We are committed to adding up to five new ambulances to our fleet,” Santiago said in a statement.

The fire department has already completed a study to determine locations for the five new ambulances that narrowed the list of possible sites to fewer than 15.

The expansion can’t come soon enough to satisfy Local 2 President Jim Tracy. “On Jan. 2nd, the city was out of ambulances and Office of Emergency Management and Communications could be heard asking for any available ambulances to respond to a still and box at 2204 North Newland,” Tracy wrote in an email.

He ridiculed Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford for saying the city was “a little in the red, so we put more ambulances in service.”

The Tuesday shortage the union cited wasn’t the only sign of recent stress on an EMS system long viewed as inadequate.

On New Year’s Eve, veteran paramedics say there were 754 ambulance runs between midnight and 6:45 a.m. That sent response times soaring to sometimes dangerous levels.

Langford acknowledged there was some stress on the system that night, but he insisted that CFD paramedics were on scene in reasonable time and treated patients until more paramedics arrived in ambulances, referring to firefighter-paramedics assigned to engines and trucks.

thanks Dan

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Chicago Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago on Wednesday defended his 60-day suspension of a lieutenant who refused to send underlings into an area where they might be exposed to Ebola but said the city will accept an arbitrator’s ruling overturning the suspension.

Santiago said the decision not to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling had nothing to do with the no-confidence vote taken Sept. 21 by the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2. Nor was it a response to the 2,300 people who signed union-circulated petitions expressing disappointment when the union thought the department would challenge the arbitrator’s ruling.

On July 12, arbitrator Jacalyn Zimmerman overturned Lt. Steven Spallina’s suspension. She ruled that Spallina was not guilty of insubordination because he had an entirely reasonable fear that detailing one of his members . . . would pose a grievous risk of harm to that member, one which went well beyond anything inherent in the profession.

“Risking exposure to Ebola is not a routine detail, and it is not a normal risk,” the arbitrator wrote.

Still, Santiago defended the suspension.

“Too many people depend on us when we make decisions. We have to respond. That’s what we do. If you don’t go out the door when people call for help, that would be a problem for fire service,” Santiago said.

“So many people have been hurt, given their lives for this job because we always respond. And we always help those who need us. If you do something opposite of that, I’d have to seriously look at that.”

But what about the fear of Ebola?

“It’s not saying, `I’m afraid’ or `I’m gonna do something for my guys.’ You have to take a look at all the facts. I thought the facts were not there to support” Spallina’s fear, Santiago said.

“We as senior members of the Chicago Fire Department will not send you to someplace we know is dangerous. . . . An officer will get on the scene and they will assess it because they’re trained in everything. We spend a tremendous amount to make sure our people make the right decisions and are safe.”

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Chicago Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

More than 2,300 people have signed a petition criticizing Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago in connection with the suspension of a lieutenant for refusing an order.

 Lt. Steven Spallina refused an order to send members of the fire department into an area where he suspected they might come into contact with Ebola, the deadly disease, according to union officials.

Spallina was suspended for 60 days, but on July 12, arbitrator Jacalyn Zimmerman overturned the discipline. She ruled he was not guilty of insubordination the union said in a recent letter to members.

The letter said Zimmerman decided Spallina could disagree with an order he believed would endanger the health and safety of him or other employees, the union said.

“We were recently informed that the department is going to seek to have the arbitrator’s decision overturned on the basis that it is against public policy — that the firefighters would stop doing their inherently dangerous jobs because of this decision,” the letter said.

On Sept. 21, the executive board of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 declared a vote of no confidence in Santiago and urged members to sign a petition expressing disappointment “in the CFD’s decision to challenge this final and binding arbitration award,” according to the letter.

In a text message, Tom Ryan, president of the union, told the Chicago Sun-Times: “Local 2 is expected to honor arbitrator’s rulings — good or bad. Arbitrator Zimmerman was very clear in her ruling that Lt. Spallina was vindicated and should be made whole. The petition is in response to this CFD action.”

The union represents the city’s 4,645 rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics. It’s unclear how many of the signatures on the petition belong to members of the Chicago Fire Department.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford refused to comment on the petition drive. Instead, he issued an emailed statement defending Santiago’s decision to order a lengthy suspension.

“Lt. Spallina was given a 60-day suspension for insubordination after not following a direct order,” Langford wrote. “We continue to evaluate our legal options and the decision has not yet been made on whether to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.”

thanks Dan

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Chicago Inspector General suggests savings for CFD

Excerpts from the

The Chicago Fire Department could save at least $1.2 million a year and potentially millions more in overtime by hiring civilians to perform 34 administrative jobs that have nothing to do with firefighting or emergency medical service, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said Wednesday.

Three years after urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to civilianize police jobs to save up to $16.6 million a year and put another 292 police officers on the street, Ferguson outlined a similar cost-cutting recipe for the Chicago Fire Department.

After analyzing the duties and responsibilities of 555 uniformed firefighters and paramedics within the $576.7 million-a-year fire department bureaucracy, Ferguson recommended that Emanuel hire civilians to perform 34 of those jobs and eliminate the job of commissary liaison altogether.

That would save Chicago taxpayers at least $1.2 million a year, reduce annual fire department overtime that has topped $40 million in recent years and allow for a more effective deployment of personnel to improve public safety outcomes and response times to fire and medical emergencies, Ferguson said.

Two firefighters whose jobs were targeted for civilians actually served as mail carriers, even though their jobs were not always documented in position descriptions or titles, the inspector general concluded. The others were assigned to administrative duties, such as making certain that fire department scheduling complies with minimum staffing requirements mandated by the firefighters contract.

The fire department embraced Ferguson’s recommendation on 32 of the 35 targeted positions. Commissioner Jose Santiago further agreed to follow the inspector general’s recommendation to assess all positions, monitor and track temporary assignments and ensure that job descriptions reflect actual responsibilities of uniformed positions.

“There are likely to be more positions in CFD that could be civilianized,” Ferguson wrote, noting that New York and Philadelphia have civilians working as fire inspectors while Chicago still assigns those jobs to uniformed firefighters.

Such a periodic review has potential to save even more money, but only if the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 goes along. During the audit, the fire department tried to get a head start by civilianizing some of the jobs Ferguson was targeting, including the two mail delivery positions. But Local 2 filed a grievance.

“Delivering mail has been Local 2 bargaining members for decades. This is a unilateral work rule change not negotiated with Local 2 . . . Stop this practice immediately and return this work to bargaining unit personnel,” the grievance stated.

Tom Ryan, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, stood his ground. “Mr. Ferguson is entitled to his opinion. But the positions referenced in his report are staffed by firefighters and paramedics and are essential to the efficient functioning of the fire department,” Ryan wrote to the Chicago Sun-Times. “These jobs are covered under our current contract and, therefore, can only be discussed in negotiations.”

Ferguson’s audit also concluded that the fire department provided at least 13 reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act either informally or without proper approval by the disability officer in the city’s Department of Human Resources.

That’s even though the department could not determine whether it had identified all uniformed members who had been granted accommodations.

“Such accommodations effectively remove firefighters and paramedics from operations, so it is critical that CFD grant and track such accommodations systematically and in compliance with city policy,” Ferguson wrote in a letter to aldermen and the mayor that accompanied Wednesday’s audit.

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African American Firefighter and Paramedic League of Chicago calls for resignations (more)

Excerpts from

At least 20 of the 111 black firefighters hired by the Chicago Fire Department after a marathon discrimination lawsuit had not been medically cleared by a department physician before starting work and two of them suffered serious medical events and died while off-duty, the city’s inspector general disclosed Tuesday.

Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago resolved a bitter legal battle the mayor inherited from former Mayor Richard M. Daley stemming from the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting. The city agreed to hire 111 bypassed African-American firefighters and borrow the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-Americans who never got that chance.

Two weeks ago, Emanuel proudly pointed to that legal resolution as he fended off demands by an organization of African-American firefighters calling for the dismissal of Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago and a federal investigation into what the group says are racist policies at the fire department.“We settled that. Paid out somewhere around $60 million to $75 million to the individuals. Then, produced the class for [111] individuals to fulfill their dreams of becoming Chicago firefighters,” the mayor said.

On Tuesday, Inspector General Joe Ferguson added a new chapter to the long-running legal saga.

In his quarterly report, Ferguson disclosed he had conducted an investigation that revealed that at least 20 firefighters in the so-called Lewis class of African-American firefighters had not been medically cleared by a Chicago Fire Department physician before starting duty, contrary to national standards and the city’s own established practice.

“Two of the 20 improperly-cleared members suffered serious medical events while off-duty and died not long after they began their full duties, highlighting the importance of a CFD physician to provide medical clearance for all new firefighters,” Ferguson wrote.

“OIG strongly urged that CFD consider immediate action to assure that the remaining 18 members who had not been medically cleared by a CFD physician were, in fact, medically fit for duty. OIG further urged that CFD devise and implement a formal medical clearance policy consistent with national standards to assure that similar deviations did not occur in the future.”

The Chicago Fire Department responded to the inspector general’s findings by claiming that all 111 black firefighters had been medically examined by an outside vendor that reviewed the candidates’ medical history and conducted a physical exam and blood tests. The fire department’s own doctors then conducted an initial review of the outside vendor’s files to either clear the candidate or order additional steps, including follow-up exams by the candidate’s personal physician or retesting if initial blood tests showed anomalous results.

But, the fire department acknowledged that department physicians fell behind in the subsequent review of applicant files aimed at making certain those additional steps were taken.

“CFD further [acknowledged] that, operating on the advice of counsel and in order to ensure compliance with a court-imposed hiring deadline, it decided to have administrative personnel conduct a limited and administrative follow-up review of the medical files of 53 yet to be cleared candidates,” Ferguson wrote.

Those administrators ultimately cleared 19 of 53 candidates and rejected 34 others whose documentation was incomplete. The fire department subsequently acknowledged that a twentieth candidate may have been administratively cleared.

In his report, Ferguson disclosed that a current and former medical director for the Chicago Fire Department told investigators that administrative personnel performing the document check lacked the medical judgment necessary to evaluate whether candidates met the required medical standards for the rigorous job of being a firefighter.

National standards clearly state that when medical evaluations are conducted by a doctor or medical provider other than a fire epartment’s own physician, the evaluation must be reviewed and approved by the fire department’s own doctors.

After the first of the two cleared firefighters died, the CFD hired an outside doctor with particular experience with fire service requirements to conduct a more thorough review of the medical files of the 19 other candidates administratively cleared.

“Soon after, a second of the 19 administratively-cleared candidates died while off-duty. Both of the firefighters who died were among the six candidates who the outside doctor identified as having medical conditions warranting further inquiry, which CFD has acknowledged,” the inspector general’s report states.

Three of the four surviving administratively-cleared firefighters for whom the outside physician recommended additional screening later experienced a medical issue unrelated to the condition of concern, Ferguson disclosed.

The Chicago Fire Department’s medical staff subsequently cleared all three as fully-fit to return to duty after a wellness exam that did not include blood tests and other diagnostic components that are part of a candidate’s screening process.  The fourth firefighter had no occasion to be evaluated by department physicians.

“CFD stated that it had discussed performing a medical exam for all the administratively-cleared firefighters and was willing to pursue such examinations, but was advised by outside counsel that doing so would be improper and potentially violate” the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Ferguson wrote.

Going forward, CFD noted that its current medical director ‘has developed detailed internal operating procedures that follow National Fire Protection Association standards, which the department is now following. The Chicago Fire Department’s Medical Division Handbook dated June, 2015  states that a CFD physician must make a final medical clearance determination on applicants.

thanks Dan

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Veteran Chicago firefighters retire has an article two retiring Chicago Fire Department veterans:

On Sept. 4, 1979, three young men joined the Chicago Fire Department ranks without having any idea that each of them in their own way would leave indelible marks on the job they loved.

After graduating from the fire academy, Jose Santiago, Dan Fabrizio, and Steve Chikerotis were reunited on the [Flying] Squad 2 — then the busiest firefighting team in the department, charged with making some of the scariest rescues their city could muster.

This month, two of them —  Fabrizio and Chikerotis — retired from active duty after 35 years.

“Along the way we touched a lot of lives,” said Santiago, who rose through ranks and now serves as fire commissioner, the top spot in the department.

Fabrizio, a battalion chief, twice served as president of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union, where he negotiated a handful of contracts and fought against powerful mayors to preserve fire truck staffing levels, employee benefits and make sure his firefighting brothers had the equipment they need to serve Chicago citizens and protect their own lives.

His Squad 2 partner was Chikerotis, who rose to deputy district chief and became a writer who crafted real-life Squad 2 rescues into the compelling stories in his book, “Firefighters from the Heart.” He also brought real Chicago authenticity to the movie “Backdraft” and most recently to NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” a show born from an idea he scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

It happened in 1985. Chikerotis and Fabrizio were partnered up on the roof of a three-story apartment building on Milwaukee Avenue in a situation eerily similar to a fire that killed three firefighters months earlier.

Chikerotis scheduled his last shift on Veterans Day in an attempt to leave the job with the least amount of fanfare possible because he hates sappy goodbyes and doesn’t plan to leave Chicago. But Santiago, as his commanding officer, wasn’t about to let him get away with it.

On Saturday, Fabrizio’s firefighting brothers were scheduled to celebrate his last roll call in style by crossing two fire rescue ladders over the entrance to the Truck 19 firehouse — home of the “Warriors of West Town.”

An early morning “2-11” fire at a single-room occupancy hotel at Jackson and Sacramento sent Fabrizio sprinting to his “buggy” and racing to the scene.

And if he had his way there’s no chance he’d quit, but he’s in a tough spot.

“I’m an old fart,” Fabrizio said. “I feel like my body isn’t as strong as it was at one time. I feel the aches and pains. I have bronchitis. I got on the job in a time when we didn’t wear masks and used to go into a fire with our nose in our coats. I’m paying for it now. So, it’s time to go.”

Fabrizio, like Chikerotis, said what makes easing into retirement a bit easier is that he’s not planning to disappear to Florida like a lot guys on the job do.

“You know I might try to escape the cold, but I’ll never move,” he said. “I’m always gonna be a Chicago guy. Always.”

thanks Dan

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CFD overtime drives push for new exam (more)

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times now addresses overtime costs by the fire department with alderman grilling CFD Fire Commissioner Santiago.

The Chicago Fire Department will spend $43 million on overtime this year — more than double the amount authorized — because of “legal issues” tied to past discrimination lawsuits that prevented the department from hiring firefighters, a top mayoral aide said Monday.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that Chicago will hold its first firefighters entrance exam in eight years in 2014 amid runaway overtime that has gone from $13.5 million in 2011 to a projected $35.3 million in 2014. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 budget includes $20 million for Fire Department overtime. But Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago acknowledged Monday that actual overtime spending will be $43 million.

“There was a series of legal issues that the Fire Department had to work through with the Law Department that actually effectively stopped us from hiring. The city of Chicago could not hire firefighters,” said Santiago, on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings.

“We have resolved those issues. . . . Nov. 18, we will have 150 people at the academy to start attacking this overtime. We have a series of classes after that. As soon as one class gets to the halfway point, we will have another class [of] 150 people. And then, another class. This should be able to take care of all the vacancies that are there and any of the people who start to retire later on.”

Santiago projected that 245 firefighters will retire in 2013. Full strength — including uniformed and civilian employees — is roughly 5,100. The Fire Department currently has 4,700 employees.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) questioned why there wasn’t more pushback from the Fire Department, considering the minimum-staffing requirement that triggered the bitter 1980 firefighters strike. The firefighters contract requires that every piece of fire apparatus be staffed by at least five employees.

In marathon contract talks, Emanuel has insisted that “double houses” that include both engines and trucks be staffed by nine firefighters instead of 10. The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 has strongly resisted the change.

“When you were having discussions with the Law Department, did anybody bring up the fact that you might have to do more overtime to make up for the loss of manpower? . . . Did anybody do a calculation of what that effect might be?” Waguespack said.

First Deputy Fire Commissioner Charles Stewart said no such calculation was done. But Santiago stressed that the alarm was sounded during “many meetings” with the Law Department and the Office of Budget and Management. “We constantly brought up the fact that we have a problem here. We can’t hire. We have people retiring. You’ve got to help us out. We have a hiring plan we put together and we could not implement it,” Santiago said.

“Many meetings were conducted. It was always brought up to them [that], ‘We need help somehow. We need to hire people or the overtime is going to go right through the ceiling,’ which it has.”

Waguespack persisted, wondering whether it was “mandatory not to hire” or optional. Stewart replied, “It was strongly recommended that, until the legal issues are resolved, that we not hire a class. We made sure they were aware of manning needs. But that was their recommendation we had to follow.”

Earlier this year, the City Council agreed to spend nearly $2 million — and $1.7 million more in legal fees — to compensate dozens of women denied firefighter jobs because of a discriminatory test of physical abilities that City Hall has now scrapped. Last year, Chicago borrowed the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-American would-be firefighters bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 entrance exam. The borrowing compounded the cost of a settlement that was twice as high as anticipated.

The city had already agreed to hire 111 bypassed black firefighters. The cash damages went to about 5,900 others who never got that chance.

Older firefighters are not the only problem confronting the Fire Department. There’s also the issue of aging equipment.

The “desired” life span for fire engines and hook-and-ladders is six years. In Chicago, the average for both is just over 11 years. For fire trucks, the ideal life span is 7.5 years. In Chicago, the average age is 15 years. Ambulances are supposed to last 2.5 years but have been on the street in Chicago for 6.2 years.

The city expects to purchase 25 new ambulances this year and has “re-chassised” four others, Santiago said.

Also on Monday, Santiago reassured aldermen that the Fire Department is meeting state mandates by responding to fires in an average of 3 minutes and 35 seconds and to medical emergencies in 5 minutes and 5 seconds.

“We base that measure on how long it takes the first fire company to arrive after the alarm goes out,” the commissioner said.

In a recent report, Inspector General Joe Ferguson measured it differently, then accused the Fire Department of response times that fail to meet national standards.

That prompted Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to put Santiago on notice.

“I want you to work with the inspector general to make sure that, when the next report comes out, the 9th Ward is not reflected as being last” in response times, Beale said.

“Even though we’re only talking seconds, when somebody’s life is on the line, seconds count. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that, if there’s a problem, it’s fixed. Obviously, there’s a problem with how we’re adding or subtracting these numbers. Fix this problem. Please do not come back next year with the 9th Ward being last.”

 thanks Dan

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Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago

The Chicago Sun-Times has an article chronicling Chicago’s new fire commissioner, entitled  From high school dropout to top of the Fire Department ladder.  Excerpts include:

Jose Santiago is the only son of a working-class single mom and a father who was “never around.” He dropped out of Tuley High School at 17 to join the Marines and escape the Humboldt Park street gangs that had swallowed up so many of his friends.

The kid who did what he had to do survive the mean streets is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s choice to become Chicago’s new $202,728-a-year fire commissioner …

“A bunch of my friends that I knew from school were all dead [or] dying. It was just a matter of time. …I had to get out of the neighborhood. If you knew Humboldt Park, you’d better get out of that neighborhood or you’re gonna become a statistic,” Santiago, 56, recalled Monday.

 … he returned to Chicago in 1975 …  At the time, the firefighters’ entrance exam was primarily a test of physical fitness and agility. Since Santiago was a Marine reserve in top physical condition, his score landed him as No. 10 on the hiring list. He was hired in September, 1979, and was on the job for all of two days when he made his first rescue.

But the timing couldn’t have been worse. Within five months, firefighters went out on strike to protest then-Mayor Jane M. Byrne’s decision to confront the very issue that’s expected to be at the center of contentious contract talks between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2: the requirement that every piece of fire apparatus be staffed by a minimum of five firefighters. Santiago was told by his union brethren that the strike would “probably last hours.” Instead, it dragged on for 23 days.

The rookie firefighter … never once considered crossing the picket line.

In fact, Santiago and his colleagues at Engine No. 76 …  spent the strike monitoring [the] fire radio and responding to every fire in their district.

“As soon as there was a fire or something where somebody was injured, we would jump in our personal cars, drive to that area. If we had a fire, we would go in and grab the hose lines from the [firefighters who] crossed the picket lines. There was like 1,000 people who came on [to break the strike]. They did not know which end of the hose” was which, Santiago recalled.

“We’d go inside, put the fire out, make sure everybody was safe. Then we would hand all the tools back, go back to the firehouse and hold our picket signs. … We owned our own fire coats and helmets. But a lot of us were just in blue jeans and gym shoes running into the fire. …We were not gonna let someone die in our neighborhood because of the strike.”

Santiago is perceived, more as a go-along, get-along commissioner who will roll over for whatever economies Emanuel wants to make in the city’s second-largest department. But … [he] … should not be underestimated.

“We’re about to take this [department] into the 21st Century. How can technology help us run better? … How can we make it run efficiently first — before we even look at cutting,” Santiago said.

“We have to reform the job. …There are changes [coming]. …But everything is gonna be done with this big umbrella of safety built over it.”


Read the complete article HERE.


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Santiago appointed as new CFD Fire Commissioner

The Chicago Tribune has an article HERE about Mayor Emanuel’s appointment of Jose Santiago as the Fire Commissioner:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today appointed the former head of the city’s 911 center as fire commissioner as he formally announced the resignation of Robert Hoff, a veteran hero firefighter.

Emanuel praised Hoff for his “determined and dedicated service,” mentioning his many awards as a firefighter. “The true tribute to his service is the lives” of those he saved, Emanuel said at a news conference.

The incoming fire commissioner, Jose Santiago, was an assistant deputy fire commissioner before taking over the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications in 2010 under Mayor Richard Daley. Santiago has been serving as deputy fire chief for operations since leaving OEMC.

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