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updated: 5/17/2013 4:53 PM

Lombard board changes stance on firefighter hiring

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Five months ago, Lombard trustees wouldn't hire one firefighter.

Thursday night, they voted unanimously to hire four new firefighters and promote three to lieutenants.

The difference between denial of one new hire and approval of four lies in the department's staffing level, say the two trustees who changed their votes to allow the hiring to move forward.

"There was a public safety need that had to be filled," Village President Keith Giagnorio said. "I was really happy that the board stepped up and took care of it."

In December, the Lombard Fire Department employed 61 sworn firefighters -- two short of its full authorized staffing of 63. Since then, Chief Paul DiRienzo said, two firefighters left the department because of injuries and one retired, bringing staffing down to 58.

"When we last considered this, we were considering the 62nd firefighter position," said Trustee Peter Breen, who along with Trustee Laura Fitzpatrick opposed hiring one more firefighter in December but supported the measure approved Thursday. "The difference between 61 and 58 is one fewer firefighter on each shift. That makes the chief's job incredibly difficult in trying to assure we are fully staffed."

The department must have a minimum of 15 firefighters working each shift, and DiRienzo said it always meets that requirement. But more overtime payments are necessary when fewer staffers are available to cover for those on vacation.

DiRienzo said he presented trustees with numbers showing Lombard has the highest fire call volume of all the communities dispatched by DU-COMM, or DuPage Public Safety Communications. He also pointed out the department budgeted for 21 firefighters on each shift, but two shifts are down to 19 while the other has 20.

"I have five vacancies. I showed them that and the amount of hours the guys are working. I showed how we break down where each position is filled each day," DiRienzo said. "I just showed them the need and that we are a very active town."

Breen and Fitzpatrick said concerns about pension costs over the lifetime of any new full-time employee originally prevented them from supporting the hiring of more firefighters.

"I'm being very cautious right now about adding full-time employees because of the pension costs," Fitzpatrick said. "(DiRienzo) did make his case for being short-staffed and we can't have that."

DiRienzo said the four new firefighters will help, but it will take time for them to undergo testing and be trained at a 12-week fire academy before they can join the force. He said the soonest they could be on shift is late September.

Still, fire union members say they are satisfied with the decision to add to their ranks.

"We're happy with the decision; it's about time," said Mike Fetzer, vice president of contracts for the firefighters union. "With the new members of the board, I think that's going to be a definite change in the right direction."

New trustees Dan Whittington and Mike Fugiel joined Breen, Fitzpatrick and Bill Ware in supporting additional fire department staffing. New Trustee Reid Foltyniewicz left the late-night meeting before the vote was taken, but he had said during campaign season he strongly supported bringing the department to full staffing.

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