For the first time in 30 years, the Village of Riverside has a new fire chief. In anticipation of the retirement of Chief Anthony Bednarz last Friday, the village’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted on May 15 to appoint Kevin Mulligan as his replacement.

Mulligan, 43, has been a member of the Riverside Fire Department for the past 23 years. He joined the force as a college student in 1983 as a paid-on-call firefighter. He joined the Pleasantview Fire Protection District in 1993, remaining a member of the paid-on-call Riverside force.

The Pleasantview Fire Protection District serves several southwest suburban communities, including Indian Head Park, Burr Ridge, Willowbrook, Countryside, Hodgkins and parts of unincorporated Cook County.

Currently a lieutenant for Pleasantview, Mulligan was named Riverside’s assistant fire chief in 1997. He has lived in Riverside since 1977.

“Tony’s are very difficult footsteps to follow in,” Mulligan said to a standing-room-only crowd of fellow firefighters, family members and well-wishers in the auditorium of the Riverside Township Hall. “I hope I can live up to the expectations and history of this organization.”

Bednarz pinned his own badge onto Mulligan’s uniform, officially handing the reins of the department to his protege.

“Fortunately, Tony allowed me to learn the position, and tutored me along the way,” Mulligan said in a separate interview. “I had quite a bit of opportunity to learn and participate.”

Mulligan worked approximately 20 hours as week as Riverside’s assistant chief, and will be expected to log roughly 30 hours per week as the department’s chief at an annual salary of $71,000.

He was will keep his full-time job as a lieutenant for the Pleasantview district, which operates on the standard 24 hours on, 48 hours off schedule for firefighters.

Bednarz’ last day as Riverside’s fire chief was Friday, when the village hosted a reception in his honor at the Township Hall. In March, Bednarz stunned colleagues and village officials when he announced he was leaving his long-time post to become fire chief in Western Springs.

“This is truly a bittersweet moment for me,” said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr., who presided over the change in command on May 15. “I don’t know many people with the dedication he has.”

Bednarz, 63, a lifelong Riverside resident, has spent his entire professional career in Riverside as both a firefighter and small business owner. He joined the fire department in 1961 as a paid-on-call firefighter as a teenager, joining his father, who had been a member of the force since the 1940s.

In 1976, the younger Bednarz was named the village’s fire chief. When his contract was renewed in 2005, his salary called for him to be paid $98,400. Bednarz will receive a pension through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Bednarz’ contract also calls for him to be paid a consulting fee of $10,000 upon retiring. According to the terms of the contract, during the next year, Bednarz must make himself “reasonably available” to the village as a consultant.

“Yes, it’s going to be extremely difficult Friday to leave here, and I’m going to miss it, no question about it,” Bednarz said. “There have been some really great times and some really terrible ones, too. But we got through it as a family and as a village.”

Change spurs more promotions

The change at the top of the fire department on May 15 triggered other moves within the ranks.

Replacing Mulligan in the assistant chief’s role will be two firefighters, John Buckley and Matt Buckley. Both residents of Riverside, the Buckley brothers were both captains in the department before the promotion to assistant chief.

John Buckley is a 20-year veteran of the force, while Matt Buckley has been a Riverside firefighter for 18 years.

“Not everybody knows this, but at one time there were three assistant chiefs in the fire department,” Mulligan said. “It’s really too much responsibility for someone on a part-time basis.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Bill Ruska, an 18-year veteran of the force and Riverside resident, was promoted to captain. Mulligan named two lieutenants as well: North Riverside resident Tom Bensfield, who has been a firefighter for seven years, and North Riverside resident Ross Davis, a 12-year veteran of the Riverside Fire Department.