A meeting of the police and fire committee of the North Riverside village board Monday night turned into the expected political theater, with three fire lieutenants taking uncomfortable turns as bit players.
Trustee Hubert Hermanek, the VIP Party candidate for mayor, called the meeting last week after sharping criticizing a posting on the TAP Party website, which rapped the village’s paramedic service provider.
Point No. 6 of the TAP Party mission statement, since changed to tone down the rhetoric, called for the village to get rid of the paramedic company and train North Riverside’s firefighters to be paramedics.
“Our paramedics from PSI (Paramedic Services Inc.) are sub-par and do not offer a greater quality of care in which our Fire Department can provide,” the posting on the TAP Party website said. The posting went on to describe the current paramedics as “mediocre” and said they are at the “bottom of the totem pole.”
The website presently states, “Our paramedics from PSI (Paramedic Services Inc.) do not offer a greater quality of care in which our fire department can provide.”
Hermanek sharply criticized those statements at last week’s village board meeting and did so again Monday night.
“It’s libel per se, in my opinion,” said Hermanek, a lawyer. “It does alarm residents. People should be more cautious when they want to play politics so they don’t scare the residents, especially the elderly in our village.”
Hermanek said that a committee meeting was necessary to see if the statements made about the paramedics were true. In a very unusual move, a court reporter and the village attorney were present at Monday’s committee meeting.
Four witnesses were called to answer questions at the meeting, including North Riverside Fire Chief Ken Rouleau and the three fire lieutenants.
Hermanek asked the four the same series of questions about their opinions of the paramedics and the truth of the statements on the TAP Party website.
Rouleau was the most expansive of the four.
“In 27 years they’ve done a pretty good job,” Rouleau said. “If people weren’t happy with their service we’d get complaints, and I don’t get complaints about paramedic service in North Riverside.”
Rouleau said that there had been only a very few problems in the 27 years the village has used PSI paramedics.
“In my 11 years as chief officer I’ve only filtered maybe two complaints and those were mostly a problem with communications,” he said.
The three lieutenants looked clearly uncomfortable sitting before the village board.
“I didn’t know why I was going to be here today, and I didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Lt. Brian Basek, who added he disagreed with the statements previously on TAP’s website.
“I would have to say that I have no problem with them,” Basek said. “I would have to say they work well with us as a team. … I don’t think the average person could tell the difference between one or the other.”
The most uncomfortable and nervous lieutenant appeared to be Gary Jurceka. At last week’s village board meeting, Hermanek called Jurceka the campaign manager for TAP Party mayoral candidate, Trustee Rocco DeSantis.
On Monday, Jurceka denied he was DeSantis’ campaign manager and told Mayor Kenneth Krochmal that he didn’t know who wrote the paragraph about the paramedics on the TAP website.
Jurceka, like the other lieutenants, said that he wasn’t really qualified to judge the quality of the paramedics’ work.
“Because I don’t really go on many of the ambulance calls I really don’t know what the level of care on the street is, so I have no comment,” Jurceka said.
Lt. Mike Wisniewski had perhaps the least to say about the quality of the paramedics noting that he rarely works with them.
After the lieutenants were finished, the village board members had a short, lively and, at times, angry discussion.
DeSantis called the meeting a political stunt.
“I have never seen an attorney and a court reporter at a committee meeting,” DeSantis said.
But Hermanek said it was necessary.
“I believe that there is a possibility that the mission statement is libel per se and because of that possibility, the serious nature of it, I believe that today’s testimony needed to be recorded and have an attorney present,” Hermanek said.
DeSantis said that everything that was said was opinion.
“What the fire chief said and all the lieutenants said was an opinion and what’s stated on the website is also an opinion,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said that Hermanek did not have the authority to order the fire chief and the lieutenants to appear at the committee meeting.
Finally DeSantis conceded that the PSI paramedics often do good work.
“I’ve been through one kangaroo court, and we’re going through another one,” DeSantis said. “Let’s be fair. Yes the paramedic service that we have is good. Does it have faults? Absolutely it has faults. … Don’t say it’s the best in the world.”