Thursday, April 16, 2009

Orland Fire Vehicle makes distant calls, from sports parking lots

Randy Reeder has been a longtime member of the Orland Fire Protection District hired in 1989 after serving in Palos for almost a decade before.

So you would think he would know better.

Reeder was promoted to Battalion Chief last November and now drives a Battalion Chiefs “Command Car,” a huge, fire-engine red SUV with “Orland Fire District” in large letters on the side doors and back, and “Battalion Chief” emblazoned on the front fenders of the big FORD Expedition.

The vehicle is hard to miss. So it was easily spotted in many locations by Orland Park residents who called me to ask why an Orland Fire Protection District vehicle parked, late at night, at some unusual public places like the parking lot of the Bo Jackson Sports Complex 12 miles away in Lockport neat I-355? And other places outside of the District? (His ID was dangling visibly from the rearview mirror in the car so it’s obvious whose vehicle was in use.)

I asked OFPD President Patrick Maher and he explained that Reeder is on 24 hour call this month. He’s the “Safety Officer” also. It’s done for the benefit of the district residents in the event of an emergency.

I understand every father has family obligations outside of the Orland Fire Protection District. And while they are vigilant and ready to rush to the scene of a fire or emergency where they may be needed, but do they really have to use a Fire District Car on personal time to be ready?

Insured by the District, in case something happens to their car outside of the district. Gasoline paid for by the district. Maintenance, wear and tear. Sounds like nothing. But it’s a lot.

I like Pat Maher. He runs the OFPD and the buck for all of the foibles of all the clout heavy people with the clout heavy names that he has to oversee stops at his desk. That gives him all kinds of political hassles to contend with outside of trying to manage the OFPD budget and operations.

He’s related to Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes through Dan’s mother’s side of the family. You see the Hynes name on the OFPD employment roster (they are not all related). We also saw all kinds of 19th Ward workers swarming around polling places at the past election handing out palm cards. And then there are the relatives of the former Orland Park village president, who I knew personally, Fred Owens. That’s just the beginning. So I don’t envy the job that Maher has to do. He’s also planning to run for higher office – isn’t that the mandate of every relative of a 19th Ward Dynasty?

I wouldn’t accept the excuse he was given. It’s hard to believe that Randy Reeder needs to be in his OFPD gas-guzzling SUV every minute of the day even if he is on call for the month.

Reeder is one of four Battalion Chiefs who work under Fire Chief Bryant Krizik. There’s also Raymond Kay, Joe Copeland and Dan Smith, who was promoted with Reeder last November from the fire ranks. All these guys are listed under “Administration.” That means “clout.”

Then there are three Battalion Chiefs who actually do all the hard work under “Fire Operations” who split up the day, every day, into three 8 hour shifts Black, Red and Gold. They are 1st Shift (BLACK) - BC Steve Smith; 2nd Shift (RED) - BC Nick Cinquepalmi; and 3rd Shift (GOLD) - BC Bill Bonnar, Jr.

I give Maher credit. He’s not like the other politicians and government officials I deal with who run like scared rabbits when you ask them to account for the taxpayer’s dime, like the ones who call your publisher and try to get you fired, or have people drive by your house giving you threatening looks. Or joke around that if something were to happen to me, would I get my garbage can lid?

Maher explained it and stood by his explanation. Personally, I think the political animals who do occupy some of those OFPD jobs are pulling the fireman’s wool over his eyes. And I don’t buy the on-duty 30-days at a time explanation.

“The day-time battalion chiefs are assigned an on-call month which rotates between the three of them. During their assigned month, they are expected to be available 24/7 throughout the month to respond to secondary calls, extrication needed car accidents, working fires, and any technical rescue incidents,” Maher explained.

“Their ‘on-call’ time is outside of their working hours. They are not compensated for being on call, it is an expectation of their position. Additionally, the reason that we required our chiefs to live within the District boundaries is so that they are available to respond in a timely manner to incidents. When they are on call they need to be available and ready for response – which means not getting too far away from the district boundaries. If while on call the assigned chief needs to leave town, or is otherwise incapable of response they need to call one of the other off duty chiefs and find coverage.”

Maher adds, “Battalion Chief Reeder is the Department Safety Officer so even when he is not assigned “on call” duty, he still has a level of expectation to respond in the safety officer role. Again, he is not paid additional money. The practice of having off duty chiefs take home cars is practiced by practically every department which was evident during our inquiries when we decided about three years ago to change our policy. Many chiefs have that as a provision of their contracts.”

Hey. It is baseball season after all.

-- Ray Hanania

No comments: