Mundelein to reduce fire lieutenants despite opposition
Despite opposition from residents and current and former firefighters, Mundelein officials are reorganizing the fire department's command staff and reducing the number of lieutenants overseeing each shift.
The village board voted 4-1 late Monday to make the changes. Robin Meier was the only trustee who opposed the move. Trustee Dawn Abernathy was absent.
The change was proposed because administrators believe the department is "top heavy," Village Administrator John Lobaito said.
The department now has six shift lieutenants, two per shift. Under the village's plan, one of those lieutenants will be promoted to a vacant battalion chief post, and another will be put in charge of training, public education and other administrative tasks.
That will leave four shift lieutenants, one of whom is expected to retire soon and won't be replaced, Lobaito said.
At that point, the department will have three shift lieutenants -- and that's the village administration's goal.
"After the restructuring, it will be two supervisors per shift to manage six firefighters," Lobaito said. "We are confident that our fire department supervisors are fully capable of managing three firefighters."
The changes return the department to a command structure it had in 2008, Lobaito said.
Village leaders also plan to hire three additional firefighters over time to bolster the staff.
The reorganization will save the village about $149,000 annually in salary and overtime cost reductions, Lobaito said.
"The firefighters are working a lot of overtime," Lobaito said. "We anticipate that overtime will be reduced."
The board's vote followed hours of public and closed-door discussion about the proposal. Several audience members voiced opposition before the votes, including former Chief Tim Sashko, former Deputy Fire Marshal Mark Gaunky and current firefighter Brett Clark, the president of the firefighters' union.
Clark called the change "needless and dangerous." The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state labor department.
Sashko, who oversaw the department from 2007 to 2015 and now is president of the Lake County Board of Health, said he wouldn't have allowed the change if he was still chief.
Resident Tom Rogan accused trustees of sacrificing public safety "for possible savings."
Mayor Steve Lentz bristled at that allegation. The notion that the change will decrease public safety is "absolutely wrong," he said.
"I think (that's) disinformation," Lentz said.
When it came time to vote, Meier said she opposed the move because officials have received a lot of what she called "conflicting" information from people on both sides of the issue. She also said she would have liked more information on the proposal.
Earlier in the night, trustees voted to sell one of the fire department's ladder trucks to an agency in Kentucky. That proposal was criticized by audience members, too.
Mundelein Public Safety Director Eric Guenther, who oversees fire department operations, supported the moves. But he also said he understands how they can "cause an emotional response."
"I am confident that these adjustments will not negatively impact the service provided to the citizens of Mundelein and will further stabilize the department as it continues to grow and move forward," Guenther said.