Last week was a mixed bag for the Riverside Fire Department. On April 29, four firefighters filed a lawsuit against the fire chief, claiming they were improperly disciplined for an off-duty incident at a North Riverside bar in December 2013.
The lawsuit is troubling on a number of levels. First, it reveals continuing divisions within the ranks of the Riverside Fire Department, which is all the more bizarre since the ranks of the fire department are populated with an entirely part-time staff.
How this kind of factionalism can exist between people who work on an on-call basis is baffling.
Clearly, part of this is related to the termination of former Fire Chief Kevin Mulligan. There were firefighters who strongly supported Mulligan, were angry to see him go and were none too happy when his successor, Spencer Kimura, walked through the door.
We’re not informed enough about internal protocols within the fire department with respect to behavior on and off duty, so we’re not sure how this lawsuit will play out in the courts. But Riverside has a very real problem on its hands, and it may be time for the village management to step in and straighten out this mess.
There are always going to be people who don’t see eye to eye personally or philosophically with whoever is leading an organization. But firefighters and their commanders need to be on the same page, whether it’s staffed by full-timers or paid-on-call professionals.
Riverside residents need to be assured that the fire department can be counted on in times of crisis and that members of the department are not in open revolt against the department leadership.
We honestly don’t know exactly who is at the root of the problem, but village management needs to clear it up for the good of the department and for Riverside.
On the other hand, members of the department performed admirably last weekend when they were called to Riverside-Brookfield High School to attend to a teenage boy who collapsed during a basketball game and was in cardiac arrest when they arrived.
The emergency-room doctor who happened to be at the school and was aiding the stricken boy had nothing but praise for Riverside fire and police personnel, who worked hand in hand to stabilize the boy’s condition and get him to the hospital without delay.
It was a very public moment the fire department can be proud of. The department’s paramedics and police, of course, respond to these kinds of situations routinely. Most often, they are moments of private crisis. This was different, and gives a glimpse into how the department’s personnel respond on a day-to-day basis.
The current lawsuit guarantees that the department will suffer months of internal tension as it winds its way, inevitably, toward some sort of settlement. It’s that kind of strife, the department doesn’t need.