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Double duty

  • Written by Bob Rakow

OL fire chief will also head up Chicago Ridge’s department

Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets’ duties are expanding to include leading the department in neighboring Chicago Ridge.

The Oak Lawn Village Board on Tuesday night approved an agreement that calls on Sheets to head the Chicago Ridge Fire Department through 2016.
The Chicago Ridge Village Board is expected to approve the agreement at its July 15 meeting, Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen said. Sheets would take over for Robert Muszynski, who submitted his resignation in June after a firestorm and letter-writing campaign between the department and the village board members in Chicago Ridge regarding the future of the department.
“They reached out to us. We had a discussion with them and met with the mayor.” Deetjen said.
The agreement, which was unanimously approved by Oak Lawn trustees, does not include consolidating the departments.
“It’s just the chief at this time,” said Deetjen, who said that it was “premature” to talk consolidation.
Earlier this year, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar explored several cost-saving measures, including joining a fire protection district or hiring a private ambulance service.
Tokar has said he does not plan to disband the fire department.
The union that represents Chicago Ridge fire fighters opposes those ideas and expressed their differences with village officials in a letter distributed to the community.
Sheets’ priority is to “get in and get a better focus managerially,” Deetjen said.
“He’ll come back to both bodies, and he’ll make recommendations for the future. ” Deetjen said.
“We’re looking to achieve some cost efficiencies,” Tokar said Wednesday morning. “We think it’s a good deal for both towns.”
He added that he spoke with several mayors, fire chiefs and fire protection districts as he explored ways to improve cost efficiencies.
“We’re looking to improve services while at the same time save dollars,” he said.
He described Sheets as well respected fire chief, who has “a wealth of knowledge and experience” and agreed with Deetjen that Sheets will make recommendations on how to better operate the Chicago Ridge department.
Deetjen said he does not expect Sheets to meet any resistance from the Chicago Ridge firefighters.
“George is a firefighter’s man,” Deetjen said. “I think he’s a good public safety manager. I think they’re going to like George very much.”
The decision to bring Sheets to the helm in Chicago Ridge comes amidst a dispute between firefighters and village officials over the department’s future, which heightened after Muszynski’s resignation.
Tokar confirmed that he asked for Muszynski’s resignation.
Muszynski, who took over as chief in early 2011, supported the hiring of an additional 7 or 8 firefighters/paramedics who would be based at 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, residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at the Lombard Avenue station, which would reduce the response time to a large number of homes in the village.
The village’s other fire station is located in the industrial park and is not located near much of the village’s residential area.
But Tokar said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
The union’s letter expressed concern over the village’s decision to seek alternative methods for fire protection and emergency medical services.
“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 village’s response 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.