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updated: 12/3/2013 5:43 AM

Carol Stream fire battalion chief suspended without pay

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A Carol Stream Fire Protection District battalion chief has been suspended without pay while his termination hearing is continued until January -- actions to fire him he says stem from his refusal to participate in a cover-up of possible negligence that may have contributed to a choking woman's death 16 months ago.

The fire district first held termination hearings in October for Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles, charged by Carol Stream Chief Richard Kolomay with disobeying orders, engaging in conduct that could destroy public respect for the department, and insubordination.

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On Monday the fire commission granted Kolomay's motion to suspend Gilles without pay. Gilles, suspended with pay since July, used up accrued time until Nov. 8, at which point he was put on paid administrative leave.

Gilles, a member of the fire department since 1995, was ordered to participate in a performance improvement plan in July. Gilles was twice asked to sign the plan and refused both times.

"The allegations are straightforward," said Karl Ottensen, attorney for Kolomay. "He was given orders, he refused to comply with them and that is insubordination. It is a serious breach of conduct."

Gilles' attorney Aldo Botti questioned the "seriousness" of the charges.

"The insubordination was that he was ordered to sign a PIP, which was unheard of before, that was an illegal document created by the chief and not authorized by this commission," Botti said. "He wasn't asked to go into a fire. He wasn't asked to walk away from a fire. He wasn't asked to assemble his men. We believe the claim is deficient."

The fire commission denied Botti's motions to dismiss the claim on grounds of a "lack of specificity" and the legality of the performance plan.

Ottensen said Gilles was first given the plan July 17 and never asked for clarification or questioned its legality.

"The charges are specific to date, time and place," Ottensen said.

Botti has said his client fell into disfavor when he was asked to investigate reports of negligence by a paramedic stemming from a call on Aug. 25, 2012. Gilles' investigation supported allegations the paramedic did not follow proper protocols, Botti said, and may have contributed to the woman's death.

Botti said the paramedic was the first to respond to a call from a party where 81-year-old Armida Nonneman of Carol Stream was choking. Nonneman died at Central DuPage Hospital days later.

As a result of his findings, Gilles recommended the paramedic be fired, and the hospital and family be notified of the alleged negligence.

Gilles said he was told by Kolomay to keep his finding secret and alleged he was later asked to give the paramedic a failing grade on a performance improvement plan.

"The issue of retaliation is pretty clear," Botti said.

Ottensen has said there is no validity to the charges.

Gilles, promoted to battalion chief Nov. 1, 2008, received a complaint from the chief Sept. 24 leading to the initial hearing.

With witnesses still to be interviewed and subpoenas to be issued, Botti's motion for continuance was granted and a status hearing has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 3.

"It's disappointing," Gilles said after Monday's hearing, "to work for someone for so long and then to be treated like this."

Ottensen estimated that arguing evidence could take about six hours. Botti thought longer, saying he was thinking "in terms of days, not hours."

"It's going to be a long, drawn-out process," Ottensen said. "Unfortunately that's the way these tend to be."

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