The resignation last week of Chicago Ridge Fire Chief Robert Muszynski is the latest salvo in a heightening conflict between village officials and the fire department.
Muszynski resigned citing personal difference with the village’s elected officials.
Mayor Chuck Tokar confirmed that he asked for Muszynski’s resignation.
“Obviously, it’s a mayoral appointment. So I pretty much had to be the bearer of bad tidings and ask him to submit his resignation,” Tokar said Tuesday.
Firefighters are livid and are campaigning for Tokar to rehire Muszynski.
Posts on the union’s Facebook page were critical of Tokar and the administration and is asking for Chicago Ridge residents to urge officials to bring him back.
“Call the village hall and tell your mayor and trustees to bring back Chief Muszynski. He was a great chief and person. He didn’t deserve to lose his job or forced to retire. He was great with the guys at the firehouse and loved by many residents. This is just not right,” one poster wrote.
“Total hypocrisy. It seems these ‘men’ are on the ‘do as we say, not as we do’ plan. Sounds like a certain mayor can’t play fair and honor the contracts, so pan his firemen off to another village. I’d love to see him go through the rigorous training and drills you all had to in order to get your firefighter and medic licenses and degrees, then do your jobs,” another poster commented.
Muszynski, who took over as chief in early 2011, supported the hiring of an additional seven or eight firefighters/paramedics who would be based at the fire station at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue, Tokar said.
That station currently is used for training and to store equipment, the mayor said.
However, some residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at that station, which would reduce the response time to a large number of homes in the village.
The village’s main fire station is located in an industrial park and is not located near much of the village’s residential area.
Tokar said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
“We can’t afford to have a 50 percent increase in our staffing,” the mayor said.
Tokar, who was elected April, 2013, said he has explored “other options” for fire protection in the village, including obtaining services from a fire protection district or another community, such as Oak Lawn.
Worth, which previously had its own fire department, signed a contract with the North Palos Fire Protection District a few years ago.
“I think that was a good move for Worth,” Tokar said.
Whatever decision the village makes, Tokar said he does not intend to “disband or dissolve” the fire department, which currently has 13 full-time firefighter/paramedics, the mayor said.
Muszynski’s resignation comes after two letters were distributed to Chicago Ridge residents in June.
The first letter was written by Chicago Ridge Professional Firefighters Local 3098 expressing concern over the village’s decision to seek alternative methods for fire protection and emergency medical services.
The letter also spoke favorably of in-house fire and emergency medical services.
“It works better,” the letter said. “A private ambulance could be coming to your house from as far as Frankfort. The fire department is always here.”
The letter pointed out that nearby communities such as Hometown, Midlothian and Crestwood no long use private ambulance services and resumed their own services “because they work better.”
“Why then is the village of Chicago Ridge contemplating taking a step backwards when the rest of the world is moving on to what works better?” the letter asked.
The union admitted that there are upsides to a fire protection district, but “all facets of a potential merger must be examined.”
“The mayor states that he wants the ‘highest quality services’ and the ‘fastest response times possible.’ We assert that he already has them. The current staff knows the town, the residents and the streets, and we pride ourselves on our ability to mitigate every emergency with the professionalism you have come to expect from your fire department.”
Village officials fired back with a letter of their own that was sent to residents as well as in a letter-to-the-editor at the Reporter, which was published June 26.
The village’s said the union’s letter “contains misrepresentations of fact in an attempt to cause fear.”
It said Tokar was directed by trustees to “investigate and report to the board cost-saving measures that might save our taxpayers money while increasing the level of fire and ambulance service.”
Dissolving the fire department and contracting with a private ambulance service are not under consideration, the letter said.
The village’s letter also pointed out that village and the union are in the midst of contract negotiations and noted that none of the Chicago Ridge firefighters live in Chicago Ridge.
“By looking into how other towns operate, where our firefighters themselves live, we may discover better, more cost-effective ways to operate,” the letter said.