Carol Stream Fire Chief Rick Kolomay says the recent shuffle in the fire protection district's leadership ranks that brought former Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Bob Hoff to the district was necessitated by a desire to spread out an ever-increasing workload.
Hoff's hiring as deputy fire chief was approved by the fire district's board of trustees Feb. 27 in a 3-2 vote. At the same meeting, the board approved Kolomay's request to create a civilian position, chief administrative officer, and shift then-Deputy Chief Perry Johnson to that role.
Kolomay said it had been difficult for he and Johnson alone to handle all the administrative tasks for the fire protection district, a 15-square-mile area that includes all of Carol Stream and parts of Bloomingdale, Winfield and Glendale Heights.
"We reached a point in my second year as fire chief, where I sat with Deputy Chief Johnson and said, 'We're here six and a half days out of the week and we operate nights at fires when we have them.'" Kolomay said. "My family and I couldn't keep going that way and neither could his. That was the red flag, the trigger that said we need to reorganize and do this better."
Trustees Jim Panopoulos and Karl Langhammer -- often critics of the district's financial practices -- questioned whether Kolomay was molding the newly opened deputy chief position for Hoff, who stepped down less than two weeks before as head of the Chicago Fire Department.
"Bob is a great guy. I just didn't care for the process," said Panopoulos, who called for a formalized search process to seek out candidates in addition to Hoff.
Kolomay has known Hoff since 1985, when Hoff was a student in a class he taught at the state fire academy. Hoff later became an instructor himself and the two wrote a firefighting training manual together in 2003.
In a recent Daily Herald story, Hoff said he had been planning his retirement from the Chicago department months before February, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked him to stay on longer during the transition period after Richard M. Daley left.
Hoff's hiring also came just weeks after the Carol Stream fire district's longtime fire prevention bureau director, Don Lay, stepped down. As part of the district's leadership reorganization plan, Kolomay decided to include oversight of fire prevention in Johnson's new civilian role.
In a written statement, Lay said he resigned in good standing, but declined to elaborate.
Kolomay said it was fully Lay's decision to leave.
"His reasons for leaving are private and a personnel matter that we're not at liberty to discuss," Kolomay said. "He was a gentleman and professional. He did a lot of good things here. He decided to move on."
The new chief administrative officer position also includes oversight of the district's finances, information technology, auditing and clerical staff, Kolomay said.
Kolomay, as chief, is ultimately responsible for those areas, but also handles relationships with the district's command staff, trustees, attorney, union and village officials, in addition to responding to major emergencies.
The deputy chief position, meanwhile, is responsible for handling training and development of proactive fitness initiatives to reduce levels of stress, minimize injuries and maintain longevity in firefighters' careers, Kolomay said.
"Higher levels of morale, better health, greater performance for a longer time -- it takes time and a lot of energy. That's what's involved into this reorganization," Kolomay said.
He says the administrative team works well together and there's now depth in the system.
"We have a chemistry, the three of us, that I think serves this district and village really well," he said.