Forum: Setting things straight
Steve Metsch’s recent story on the Oak Lawn Fire Department’s cost and staffing issues contained misinformation from Mayor Sandra Bury and the village, prompting me to clarify matters.
1) House Bill 5485 does not force towns to require minimum stafﬁng on fire vehicles. All it does is codify that “minimum manning” is a mandatory subject of bargaining in Illinois, meaning that it has to be negotiated in good faith. HB 5485 does not mandate anything.
2) Fire Chief George Sheets’ comment that the key stafﬁng issue is not how many ﬁreﬁghters are on a truck but how many are at a fire scene is not accurate. We firefighters are able to bargain over stafﬁng because our collective safety is directly related to how many ﬁreﬁghters are assigned to an apparatus and to a particular shift. Oak Lawn ﬁreﬁghters deserve to be safe at all times, not just at a fire scene.
3) Oak Lawn has underfunded its public safety pensions for years, while employees have contributed to their pensions every month, year after year. Whether the local economy was good or bad, the village has continually “kicked the can down the road.” It’s not fair to blame Oak Lawn police and ﬁreﬁghters for the village not meeting its pension obligations.
4) Village manager Larry Deetjen said “72 percent of the Oak Lawn ﬁreﬁghters do not live in Oak Lawn,” which is true. They have not been required to live in the village for at least 25 years. The residency requirement was dropped as a result of a federal discrimination investigation in the 1980s. Not residing in Oak Lawn does not take away a firefighter’s right to a safe work environment.
5) Deetjen continually cites the village spending nearly $2 million last year on fire department overtime. He doesn’t mention that the number of firefighters has declined from more than 100 to 76 — about a 25 percent cut while the department responds to an increasing number of emergency calls. Deetjen doesn’t say that the overtime cost is offset by the reduced manpower costs (wages, insurance and other beneﬁts). The village has not hired any new ﬁreﬁghters (or paramedics) since April 2007.
Oak Lawn Professional Fireﬁghters Association