Controversial vote approves Des Plaines ambulance purchase
There won't be much that distinguishes the Des Plaines Fire Department's new $231,330 ambulance once it hits the street later this year -- except the story of how it came to be.
The city council voted 5-4 Monday to purchase a so-called horizontal exhaust ambulance as part of an annual replacement program, with Mayor Matt Bogusz casting a tiebreaking vote. The decision came after a vote last month to purchase a vertical exhaust ambulance, which supporters argue is a safer and healthier alternative because it releases potentially dangerous diesel fumes away from firefighters and the public through a vertical smoke stack -- not a tailpipe.
Bogusz, who said the vertical exhaust ambulance was a "solution in search of a problem," asked aldermen on March 17 to reconsider their first vote and approve a resolution to rescind. One alderman, Jack Robinson of the 2nd Ward, originally voted for a vertical exhaust ambulance but switched his vote.
Aldermen who have been in favor of a vertical exhaust ambulance all along cried foul over how the process was conducted since the council's first vote March 3 -- much of it directed at the mayor, who placed the resolution to rescind on the council's March 17 meeting agenda.
"It could be a very frustrating thing where if the eight of us sitting up here continue to vote, and you have five votes, things get approved, but if someone doesn't like the outcome of it, then it's brought back again," said 1st Ward Alderman Patricia Haugeberg. "It's very counterproductive, and it's not moving our city forward."
Bogusz said he didn't rescind the initial decision -- the council did.
"I only put a resolution on the agenda," Bogusz said. "Had the votes not changed, the outcome wouldn't have changed. That's it."
Robinson, providing his first public explanation for switching his vote, said he "reanalyzed" his vote following the March 3 meeting.
"I decided I did not like the way I voted. I asked the mayor what could be done about it, and that's how this came up. Period."
Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman, a former Des Plaines firefighter who proposed the vertical exhaust system for ambulances, joined Haugeberg and 4th Ward Alderman Dick Sayad in saying that the council should look at changing its rules to prevent the mayor from placing resolutions to rescind on future meeting agendas.
Brookman has suggested there were "political games played" and "arm twisting" that resulted in the vote reversal.
"I should be able to vote and know after the meeting that whatever the vote was, the outcome was," Brookman said. "There shouldn't be a second bite of the apple by the unilateral decision of one person."
Again arguing his case for a vertical exhaust ambulance, Brookman pointed to studies linking diesel exhaust fumes to cancer, and mentioned three Des Plaines firefighters by name who died from cancer.
He said the price to buy a vertical exhaust ambulance would only be an extra $1,500, plus another $45,000 to retrofit exhaust capture systems at all three fire stations.
Fire Chief Alan Wax said newer ambulances with horizontal exhaust dissipate fumes more quickly than old ambulances, and meet newer EPA standards. Neither fire department personnel nor the public was being exposed to dangerous levels of exhaust from ambulances, he added.
"This is based on facts, not emotions," Wax said.
"The implication this comes from emotion, I find highly offensive," Brookman responded.
"You think I'm emotional?" he told Wax. "I think you lack professional judgment in this area."
Brookman, Sayad, Haugeberg and Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten voted against the purchase of a horizontal exhaust ambulance.