Members of the union that represents Chicago Ridge firefighters were pleased that a proposal to cut two lieutenant positions from the department was discarded last week by the village board.
The union and Mayor Chuck Tokar also believe that negotiations on a new firefighters’ contract are making significant progress and a deal could be finalized within a month.
“I think things are going well,” Tokar said Monday.
He added that contract between the village and the fire department union could be approved as soon as the next village board meeting.
Negotiators are working on a four-year deal that includes a cost-of-living increase in the final year, the mayor said.
The current contract expired in January, and the union and village have negotiated the terms of a new deal since October 2013, union president Chris Schmelzer said.
“I think we’ll be able to get (a contract) done,” he said.
The village’s plan to remove from the village budget two of the department’s lieutenant spots died for lack of a second at the July 15 village board meeting.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” Schmelzer said. “I did not expect it coming. It was great news.”
Schmelzer said the appearance at last week’s board meeting by two former village trustees coupled with complaints from residents likely led to the board’s decision to continue to fund the lieutenant positions.
Former trustees Don Pratl and Juanita Babcock both spoke on the matter at the meeting. Babcock’s son is a member of the village’s fire department.
Other residents who attended the meeting urged the board not to eliminate the lieutenant spots, citing their importance to the fire department, especially as shift leaders.
Schmelzer said other residents emailed and called village officials to protest the proposal.
“We always have faith in the public,” Schmelzer said.
Village trustees last Tuesday also approved an intergovernmental agreement with Oak Lawn that calls on Oak Lawn Chief George Sheets to head the Chicago Ridge Fire Department.
The agreement says Sheets will serve as Chicago Ridge chief through 2016 while maintaining his duties in Oak Lawn.
Trustees Sally Durkin and Daniel Bandon voted against the agreement, which Oak Lawn officials unanimously approved July 8.
Durkin said she opposed the agreement because it was put forth without board input.
Tokar said he’s met with other mayors and fire protection district officials to discuss the village’s options for the future of the fire department.
Schmelzer said he met with Sheets and anticipates a “good working relationship” with the man who has led the Oak Lawn Fire Department since 2009.
“I’m optimistic,” he said.
Sheets will dedicate about 15 hours a week to the Chicago Ridge Fire Department. His first task, he said, is to examine the department in an effort to improve services and cost efficiencies.
Sheets replaces Fire Chief Robert Muszynski, who resigned recently at the request of Mayor Chuck Tokar.
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 fire station at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue, Tokar said.
But Tokar has said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
That Lombard Avenue station currently is used for training and to store equipment, the mayor said.
However, many residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at the 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 some of the village’s residential areas.