Glenview firefighters union: Open letter to village trustees
To the Glenview board of trustees,
This message is from the members of the Glenview Professional Firefighters Association. We deliver this message with genuine sadness, because it is truly a sorrowful day in the history of a fantastic fire department. For over a year we have tried to work through committees, formal meetings, informal conversations, and other channels to make our voices heard, but we are ignored. And so we are left with this open letter.
We have tried to negotiate, to teach, to listen, and to learn. But to date we have been unsuccessful. We have tolerated much and we are exhausted.
We take this solemn step understanding its full gravity, and with the purpose of improving the community, improving the fire department, and improving the environment of the employees.
Village Manager Matt Formica, Fire Chief Tony DeRose, and Deputy Chief Mike Rutkowski have proved, in coordination and individually, that they cannot lead the Glenview Fire Department and do not serve the interests of the people and businesses of Glenview. They do not provide a safe or effective work environment in the Glenview Fire Department. Together, they have demoralized an outstanding department, and led every employee to question the very foundation of the Glenview Fire Department. Some of our concerns are listed here.
Matt Formica deceived the public and its elected representatives at the February 2, 2021 meeting of the Glenview board of trustees when he tied the option to close Fire Station 13 to the work of Fitch & Associates. There was no such option presented by Fitch & Associates; a representative from Fitch & Associates directly recommended against such action at the September 15, 2020 meeting of the Glenview board of trustees. Further, Matt Formica deceived the public and its elected representatives at the same meeting when he implied that all of the firefighters and fire officers involved in the study agreed to close Fire Station 13; that is false.
Matt Formica, at the February 2, 2021 meeting of the Glenview board of trustees, listed a financial savings of $1.25 million associated with closing Fire Station 13 and increasing Glenview ambulances to four 24-hour units. Despite repeated requests, he has failed to provide supporting evidence for that number. We are left with the firm belief that this number cannot be substantiated.
Matt Formica closed Fire Station 13 at the start of the COVID pandemic and did not inform the public or neighboring fire departments. Only after pressure from the public did he agree to install a prominent sign to warn people of the closure. The sign stated that "Service levels are not impacted," which is misleading and false.
Matt Formica, at the February 2, 2021 meeting of the Glenview board of trustees, told the public and its elected representatives that during the temporary closures of Fire Station 13, service to Fire Station 13's area was not impacted by those closures and there were "no negative outcomes" related to the closure. This is simply not accurate. During that time there were several medical emergencies that resulted in losses of life. Time was of the essence in each of those calls. The responding units had to come from a further distance, which required additional time to respond.
Matt Formica, during the temporary closure of Fire Station 13 in 2020, misled the public and its elected representatives, stating that during the station closure, the Glenview Fire Department was able to deploy four ambulances "on most days." This statement is wholly inaccurate. He chose to have the fourth ambulance in service less than one quarter of the days.
Matt Formica, demonstrating a lack of understanding or a disregard for public safety, failed to inform important stakeholders about the temporary and permanent closures of Fire Station 13, including neighboring fire departments, neighboring dispatch offices and nearby residents, schools, churches and businesses.
Matt Formica in 2019 assembled a committee to interview applicants for the position of Deputy Chief. Seven of the eight members of the committee recommended that DeRose should not be hired; Formica was the eighth. There was never an internal posting for the position of Fire Chief, or more importantly any external public posting or search. The "candidates" for consideration were individuals that had never even applied for the Fire Chief position. Rather, they applied to fill the Deputy Chief position. Matt Formica ignored the lack of a public search and the overwhelming rejection of DeRose by the rest of the committee, and he hired his longtime friend to be Fire Chief anyway.
Matt Formica hired a longtime friend to be Deputy Chief of the Glenview Fire Department. He created a job listing for Deputy Chief that eliminated highly qualified internal and external candidates, narrowing the field to résumés common in fire departments that in no way resemble the Glenview Fire Department.
Tony DeRose was never qualified for the position of Fire Chief of the Glenview Fire Department. Previously, he never managed a force of greater than 13; now he's responsible for a department of 80 employees. Previously, he has never worked for a municipal fire department and never worked with an organized labor group. His education and experience does not compare to candidates for comparable roles in comparable fire departments. Though being a licensed paramedic was one of the few qualifications listed on the job posting, DeRose never completed the process to be a paramedic in Glenview.
Tony DeRose, since he was hired, has worked to diminish the responses to many of the emergencies in Glenview, reducing the number of firefighters and paramedics that go to those emergencies. This creates unsafe situations for the public and the employees.
Tony DeRose has failed to educate the Glenview board of trustees to support their decisions regarding the Glenview Fire Department, arguably the most important duty of a fire chief. In meetings of the Glenview board of trustees on September 15, 2020, and February 2, 2021 he was silent about impacts of station closures and changes in deployment. In a meeting of the Glenview board of trustees on March 8, 2021 Tony DeRose misrepresented the meaning and capacity of aid from neighboring departments, stating that other departments would always provide aid when Glenview requested it. Several chief officers and others from neighboring departments directly contradicted DeRose's statements during that March 8, 2021 meeting, explaining that aid will only be provided when it is available, and other departments are busy with their own calls. One chief stated, "Mutual aid is not designed for closing fire stations or reallocating resources. It is strictly there for providing aid to communities when their resources are overrun."
Tony DeRose has deceived the employees of the Glenview Fire Department. Throughout 2020, employees expressed their concern that the temporary closures of Fire Station 13 were trials to prepare for a permanent closure. Tony DeRose repeatedly stated that the village will not close Station 13. He explained to the labor representatives, "Closing Station 13 isn't even a consideration."
Tony DeRose has repeatedly stated that his job is to be hated, and that he does not care if he is liked or trusted. In this profession, trust in leadership is not a luxury; it is a requirement. Personnel in a hazardous situation must know that their leaders are absolutely dedicated to the safety and success of the personnel. If Tony DeRose fails to understand the importance of trust in leadership in this profession, he is unqualified to serve.
Tony DeRose has demonstrated an inability to make simple decisions. He tried to outsource writing policies for his own department. With months to plan, he didn't arrange for the mandated Department Infection Control Officer. With months' notice, he has not planned for hosting outside students for paramedic training.
Tony DeRose has demonstrated an inability to make complex decisions. When ordered to close Fire Station 13, he produced a "plan" that failed to provide direction on how it might affect department standing operating guidelines, daily staffing, employee benefits, or the labor agreement. When arranging to have new dispatch hardware installed, he didn't prepare the specifics of the installation, leaving junior firefighters to decide how and where devices would be installed with no time to plan.
Tony DeRose, demonstrating a lack of understanding or a disregard for public safety, failed to inform important stakeholders about the temporary and permanent closures of Fire Station 13, including neighboring fire departments, neighboring dispatch offices, and nearby residents, schools, churches and businesses.
Tony DeRose planned to close Fire Station 8 for a yearlong construction project, showing disregard for the residents and businesses of the west side of the service area of the Glenview Fire Department, and demonstrating a dangerous lack of understanding of the demands on his own department. Only after the Glenbrook Fire Protection District learned of the plans and contacted the village about their contractual obligations did DeRose come off this dangerous plan.
Tony DeRose has failed to lead the Glenview Fire Department in a time of crisis. He either had no plan, or was not willing to share a plan with his staff, about contingency planning during the pandemic. After months of requests, he came up with a plan, which he quickly ignored. He did not implement a tracing program to quickly notify members of exposures in the workplace so they could reduce exposures at home. He did not create any policy to guide workplace exposures. He did not implement a mask mandate in the workplace until there was a major COVID outbreak in the firehouses. It's nothing short of shocking that one year into the pandemic, the Glenview Fire Department still has no written guidance regarding COVID.
Tony DeRose vacationed in Florida when his Glenview Fire Department was depleted by a 10% shortage in staffing due to personnel sick with COVID. The Fire Chief's respite during a time of crisis demonstrates a lack of respect for the gravity of the situation in the Glenview Fire Department, a lack of respect for the public health crisis in the town he swore to protect, and a lack of respect for his staff who were left short-handed with a closed firehouse.
Tony DeRose has failed to advocate for the Glenview Fire Department. The Village of Glenview has long held a reputation of having a fire department that other communities tried to emulate. Employees from other fire departments tried to get hired in Glenview. Under DeRose's leadership, that has disintegrated.
Tony DeRose told employees in an April 2, 2020 email that if employees contract COVID, it is most likely due to an exposure outside of work, though employees were treating critically ill COVID patients daily at work. This demonstrates a disregard for the safety of personnel and a failure to recognize the risks personnel were experiencing during the peak of infections in Glenview.
Tony DeRose has failed to support his operations personnel. Most recently, his employees worked cardiac arrests of three small children, all with tragic outcomes. Tony DeRose made no outreach to any of the fourteen employees affected by those incidents. Historically, a chief or deputy chief would contact each employee involved in incidents of this magnitude to offer them opportunities for support, and contact peer counselors to ask for support for involved employees.
Mike Rutkowski has deceived the employees of the Glenview Fire Department. Throughout 2020, employees expressed their concern that the temporary closures of Fire Station 13 were trials to prepare for a permanent closure. Mike Rutkowski repeatedly stated that the village will not close Station 13. He explained, "Closing a fire station is a huge hassle. It takes a long time to decommission a fire station and multiple things need to occur." He accused the employees of "dealing in conspiracy theories."
Mike Rutkowski tried to threaten the labor representatives of the Glenview Professional Firefighters away from responding to public outcry regarding service cuts. Rutkowski's comments included but were not limited to, "Matt [Formica]'s not going to be happy about this," and "You know how Matt [Formica] gets," on June 30, 2020. On that date, residents who had learned that Fire Station 13 was closed had written letters to the village board to complain. Mike Rutkowski blamed the residents' letters on firefighters' union action.
Mike Rutkowski has failed to support his operations personnel. Most recently, his employees worked cardiac arrests of three small children, all with tragic outcomes. Mike Rutkowski made no outreach to thirteen of the fourteen employees affected by those incidents. Historically, a chief or deputy chief would contact each employee involved in incidents of this magnitude to offer them opportunities for support, and contact peer counselors to ask for support for involved employees.
Mike Rutkowski showed no leadership or direction during the worst of the COVID pandemic, having no reliable plan in place for personnel who were sick or possibly sick. During a June 4, 2020 Labor Management Meeting, when labor representatives were inquiring about COVID testing opportunities, he suggested he'd rather not know about sick employees, "Why would we want to know if someone was positive?" When Glenview Fire Department members got sick, they were left not knowing what to do or what to expect. He did not implement a tracing program to quickly notify members of exposures in the workplace so they could reduce exposures at home. He did not create any policy to guide workplace exposures. He did not implement a mask mandate in the workplace until there was a major COVID outbreak in the firehouses. One year into the pandemic, the Glenview Fire Department still has no written guidance regarding COVID.
Mike Rutkowski has failed to recognize the importance of his position. In April of 2020 he planned to spend a week in Kentucky to attend a boat-driving class for rescue personnel; the class was canceled, but he is again scheduled to attend in April 2021. The Glenview Fire Department doesn't need a Deputy Chief to know how to drive a boat. For Mike Rutkowski to think that spending a week practicing driving a rescue boat is appropriate for his rank indicates a terrible skewing of priorities and a lack of understanding of what his job is.
Mike Rutkowski, though hired with the prerequisite of being a paramedic, after 18 months has not met the requirements of operating as a paramedic in Glenview. Though it was a minimum application requirement, it has provided no value to the citizens of Glenview.
We are willing to go to great lengths to support progress and good leadership. We have not given up. We are willing to meet with each of you to explain each of these concerns.
Glenview Professional Firefighters
Jesse Gallagher, President
Glenview Professional Firefighters Association
IAFF Local 4186