The Daily Herald has an article about the approval of a new ambulance in Des Plaines following some controversy:

There won’t be much that distinguishes the Des Plaines Fire Department’s new $231,330 ambulance once it hits the street later this year — except the story of how it came to be.

The city council voted 5-4 Monday to purchase a so-called horizontal exhaust ambulance as part of an annual replacement program, with Mayor Matt Bogusz casting a tiebreaking vote. The decision came after a vote last month to purchase a vertical exhaust ambulance, which supporters argue is a safer and healthier alternative because it releases potentially dangerous diesel fumes away from firefighters and the public through a vertical smoke stack — not a tailpipe.

Bogusz, who said the vertical exhaust ambulance was a “solution in search of a problem,” asked aldermen on March 17 to reconsider their first vote and approve a resolution to rescind. One alderman, Jack Robinson of the 2nd Ward, originally voted for a vertical exhaust ambulance but switched his vote.

Aldermen who have been in favor of a vertical exhaust ambulance all along cried foul over how the process was conducted since the council’s first vote March 3 — much of it directed at the mayor, who placed the resolution to rescind on the council’s March 17 meeting agenda.

Robinson, providing his first public explanation for switching his vote, said he “reanalyzed” his vote following the March 3 meeting.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman, a former Des Plaines firefighter who proposed the vertical exhaust system for ambulances, joined Haugeberg and 4th Ward Alderman Dick Sayad in saying that the council should look at changing its rules to prevent the mayor from placing resolutions to rescind on future meeting agendas.

Again arguing his case for a vertical exhaust ambulance, Brookman pointed to studies linking diesel exhaust fumes to cancer, and mentioned three Des Plaines firefighters by name who died from cancer. He said the price to buy a vertical exhaust ambulance would only be an extra $1,500, plus another $45,000 to retrofit exhaust capture systems at all three fire stations.

Fire Chief Alan Wax said newer ambulances with horizontal exhaust dissipate fumes more quickly than old ambulances, and meet newer EPA standards. Neither fire department personnel nor the public was being exposed to dangerous levels of exhaust from ambulances, he added.

“This is based on facts, not emotions,” Wax said.

“The implication this comes from emotion, I find highly offensive,” Brookman responded. “You think I’m emotional?” he told Wax. “I think you lack professional judgment in this area.”

Thanks Dan

Last week, the JournalOnline had an article looking into possible motivations behind the controversy surrounding the vertical exhaust ambulance purchase:

Ald. Jim Brookman (5th) yesterday (Thursday) denied that his push to change the exhaust system on Des Plaines’ ambulances is motivated by aiding a worker’s compensation claim for his deceased friend.

Tom Veverka was employed as a Des Plaines firefighter between October 1972 and April 2009. In a claim against the city filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Veverka claimed he developed lung cancer as a result of exposure to diesel fumes during his 37 years with the fire department. Veverka also suffered from brain cancer and passed away on Sept. 18, 2009.

That claim was filed on July 28, 2009, according to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission website. The next hearing date is scheduled for May 9 in downtown Chicago.

Tom Veverka’s widow, Marianne Veverka, is now the petitioner on that worker’s compensation claim. Documents recently provided to the Journal & Topics Newspapers state that she is seeking as much as $500,000 as a settlement from the city for a death benefit. The city had previously offered $15,000, which was rejected.

The city of Des Plaines group health insurance covered about $400,000 in medical bills for Tom Veverka while he was alive, according to one of the documents. Further, Tom Veverka was a longtime smoker, consuming a pack and a half of cigarettes a day for 20 years until 2008, the document also claims.

Brookman, a firefighter himself since 1974, had a friendship with Veverka through their entire careers. He testified during hearings on Veverka’s workers’ compensation claim in 2013. Brookman said Thursday he was summoned to testify as a former fireman who had relevant knowledge of the case going back his entire career.

Brookman has been fighting for the city to change the exhaust systems on its ambulances. The issue has been discussed at several city council meetings since the most recent ambulance purchase came before aldermen in early March. Brookman, citing studies conducted by health organizations, has argued expelling the fumes at ground level is harmful to firefighters and paramedics who must work near the vehicles when they are responding to calls.

Brookman became emotional several times during recent council meetings when mentioning Tom Veverka and his exposure to ambulance fumes. To decrease that risk, Brookman has advocated for vertical exhaust systems to be installed on new ambulances. A vertical system would transfer exhaust up the vehicle, releasing the materials in the air where they are less likely to be inhaled by people on the ground.

Brookman said during Monday’s discussion on a new horizontal exhaust ambulance that the city should be held accountable if any health impacts result from the diesel fumes. It was a claim he repeated to the Journal & Topics Thursday.

“If any harm comes from that choice the city should be held accountable,” Brookman said. He admonished fellow city officials for deliberately choosing not to address the dangers.

Ald. Joanna Sojka (7th) Monday said she was disappointed in Brookman’s statements. “I have no idea why you would say that and open the city to such a risk,” she said during the council meeting.

When questioned by the Journal, Brookman denied that he had made such statements to bolster Veverka’s workers’ compensation claim against the city. “It has nothing to do with this at all,” Brookman said of the relationship between the workers’ compensation case and his fight for better exhaust systems. He specified that he never claimed Tom Veverka died due to diesel exhaust. “I’m just upset that people like Tom Veverka are exposed to an additional risk,” he said.

He called the Journal’s questions “insulting.” He also said his efforts had nothing to do with Marianne Veverka’s one-time ownership of his home at 702 Howard Ave., Des Plaines.

Brookman and his wife, Carla, a former alderman herself, purchased the lot near Lake Park in late 2013 for $175,000, according to records from the Cook County Recorder of deeds. Brookman took out a construction mortgage on the property for $1,287,400 on Aug. 13, 2004. The Brookmans then took out a second mortgage on the property on July 19, 2005 for $677,700. The bank began foreclosure proceedings against the property in February 2010, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

The Brookmans sold the home on Dec. 13, 2010 to James Nelson and Marianne Veverka for $495,000. Marianne Veverka sold her interest in the home to Nelson just a few weeks later on Jan. 12, 2011, making him the sole owner of the home.

However, the Brookmans continue to reside at the property. Following that sale the property taxes on the home dropped dramatically.

Cook County gave the home an equalized assessed value of $429,482 in 2008 and an assessed value of $152,918. Brookman paid $26,950 in property taxes that year.

The equalized assessed value in 2009 was $331,421. The plot was initially assessed at $124,633 but Brookman successfully appealed to the Cook County Board of Review and the assessment was lowered to $104,276. For the 2010 taxes Brookman again appealed to the Board of Review and the assessed value went from $97,893 initially down to only $50,000. That was also the year he sold the home to Nelson and Veverka.

As the recession went on between 2008 and 2010 the equalized assessed value of the home fell from $429,482 to $159,000. As a result, the real estate taxes on the property went from $26,950 in 2008 to $11,428.92 two years later following the sale of the property. Brookman said Veverka’s brief ownership of his home was a private real estate matter that did not influence his advocacy for a vertical ambulance exhaust system. “She is not investing in this property at all,” he said of the current ownership of the home.

thanks Drew

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