Carol Stream fire officer: Battalion chief's performance a 'nightmare'

Robert Schultz said he never reported Joseph Gilles' shortcomings as Carol Stream Fire Protection District battalion chief in close to four years serving under him, but he claimed the feelings of Gilles' performance were a "nightmare" he carried from one firehouse to another.

"Four years ago when I was promoted as company officer I came into a shift that had worked with Battalion Chief Gilles for quite some time. They were exposed to all the things that were in his personal improvement plan for years," said Lt. Schultz during an at times contentious back and forth with Aldo Botti, Gilles' attorney. "As a new officer, I am not going to go to my bosses with the fact that he wears a dirty uniform shirt, the fact that he may eat like a slob, when he's always late for roll calls, when he doesn't teach us.

"I don't go through my career tattling on a day-to-day basis. They see what's going on."

Schultz, serving as acting battalion chief while Gilles is suspended without pay, was the second witness called in Gilles' termination hearing that resumed on Friday.

Gilles has been charged by Fire Chief Richard Kolomay with disobeying orders and insubordination - twice refusing to sign a performance improvement plan, or PIP.

Gilles and his attorneys have said that the attempts at termination are retaliation in the aftermath of Gilles' investigation into reports of negligence by Carey Zabran, a paramedic no longer with the district, stemming from a call Aug. 25, 2012.

Attorneys for the family of 81-year-old Armida Nonneman of Carol Stream - who died three days after the paramedics were called as Nonneman was choking - filed a wrongful-death lawsuit last week against the village and Zabran, alleging negligence.

Schultz said he first met with Kolomay to discuss Gilles' performance on June 1, 2013, days after Gilles received an email from Kolomay that he was being put on paid administrative leave. Schultz said Kolomay was doing an "informal inquiry of command staff," and Schultz was asked Gilles' strengths and weaknesses.

"I told him my biggest concern was the lack of communication on the shift, the lack of coaching and training received by the company, and the amount received by officers," said Schultz, who provided input into the development of Gilles' PIP.

The PIP was presented to Gilles in July, citing three core issues: "lacks proper management skills," "doesn't garner the respect of his peers," and his peers "do not trust him as a manager or leader."

Schultz testified that as a battalion chief Gilles "was very good at making sure the boxes were checked" but was lacking in several other areas. He said that Gilles' appearance on shift was "poor," the condition and color of his uniform were not up to standards, and his command on the scene "nonexistent." He said he neither trusted nor respected him.

"I don't have any problems with him on a personal level," Schultz said. "On a professional level I have a problem."

Schultz said that during meals Gilles "had a history of coughing on our food" and "spilling his glass of milk onto our plates," and he said he had witnessed Gilles falling asleep during "several meetings."

"During one meeting I was giving the status report of another firefighter, he had his hands crossed, head tilted down, and his eyes were shut," Schultz said. "I said, 'I guess this meeting is over' and walked out."

Schultz, who was also on the Aug. 25, 2012, call, said he shared concerns that the call "wasn't up to the fire district's standards" with Gilles sometime before the end of that shift.

Schultz said he knew Gilles did not relay the concerns to the deputy chief, gave it about a week, then went to the deputy chief himself.

"I have an issue with the communication that takes place on our shift," Schultz said. "It weighed pretty heavily on my heart and mind about having something done about that call."

Gilles was subsequently asked by Kolomay to investigate the call and said in testimony Thursday that Zabran's actions "rose to the level of termination." Only months later, after failing her own PIP, did Zabran leave the district.

Gilles said he twice told Kolomay that Zabran's alleged negligence should be reported to Central DuPage Hospital, which oversees the district's Emergency Medical Services program, and that Kolomay said "he would take care of it." But Gilles now believes the EMS director was never notified.

The termination hearing will resume at 4 p.m. Feb. 20.

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