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updated: 12/6/2012 11:33 PM

Lombard passes budget, denies firefighter hiring

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Lombard trustees passed the village's 2013 budget without dissent Thursday night, but political divisions surfaced in split votes that narrowly passed a tax levy and blocked the hiring of a firefighter to bring the department closer to full authorized staffing.

The hiring of one additional firefighter is included in the $86.8 million budget approved unanimously Thursday night, but it would need separate board approval, Village Manager David Hulseberg said.

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That approval didn't come Thursday night, with a 3-3 vote preventing a hire that would have brought the fire department to 62 members -- one short of its authorized staffing of 63.

"You've got three trustees who want to man their fire department with full staffing and three folks who may or may not be getting the right information about how fire departments are staffed," said Tim Moran, president of the Lombard firefighters union.

Trustees Keith Giagnorio, Greg Gron and Bill Ware voted for hiring one more firefighter, while Acting Village President Peter Breen and Trustees Laura Fitzpatrick and Zachary Wilson voted against the hire.

The fire department is seeking to grow to full authorized staffing so it can have three ambulances ready for emergencies at all times and decrease overtime costs incurred to ensure at least 15 firefighters are working each shift, Fire Chief Paul DiRienzo said.

Those who opposed hiring a 62nd firefighter said they were concerned about pension costs.

"Because we are safe, because we are hitting our minimum manning (of 15 firefighters each shift), I don't think we have urgency on this," Breen said. "Because of the pension uncertainty, I think it might even be imprudent to move forward right now."

Back-and-forth discussion before the split vote included all the classics of a contentious board meeting -- jeers and whispers from a disapproving crowd of about 40 village employees, many of them firefighters; trustees speaking over one another; and even a loud gavel slam to draw the meeting back to order.

Wilson asked several questions about whether a private company could be hired to run a third ambulance during peak hours.

DiRienzo said a private ambulance service would not provide the same "quality of care" as sworn Lombard firefighter/paramedics because its employees would be certified as paramedics but could not assist with fire calls.

Ware, Giagnorio and Gron said they support hiring an additional firefighter to provide the best public safety service possible.

"Do we really want a wannabe fireman who sits on a private ambulance right now, or do we want the best we can get?" Ware said. "My suggestion is to get the best we can by filling the positions."

With a deadlocked vote, Fitzpatrick's opinion reigned.

"I think the status quo is sufficient," she said.

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