With village officials not speaking about the removal of Spencer Kimura as Riverside’s fire chief, the reasoning behind the change may never be aired fully in public. But it’s a shame that the man brought in to unite a department that had been torn apart internally by the removal of the previous chief apparently wasn’t able to mend that rift or get the buy-in he needed from the rank and file.
That much became readily apparent in 2014, when four firefighters, including three members of the department’s command staff sued Kimura for disciplining them in the wake of a North Riverside bar fight following the department’s annual Christmas party.
Quite frankly, the discipline meted out in that case was pretty mild and a federal judge agreed with the village and with Kimura, saying the chief had every right to impose those disciplinary measures.
That Matthew Buckley has been named interim chief is no surprise. He’s served as deputy chief on two separate occasions under two different chiefs. A Riverside resident, he has a long history in the department and is often the first person responding to emergency scenes in the village.
His dedication to the department and to public service— he’s also deputy police chief in Lyons — is unquestioned.
According to Buckley, the factionalism that has characterized the Riverside fire department during the past five or six years is on the way out. He’ll be leaning heavily on fellow department supervisors to help the village cross the bridge from Kimura to whomever ends up leading the department in the future.
Who knows? It’s possible and perhaps even desirable that Riverside move away from its long tradition of having a part-time chief run the department. One of the possibilities moving forward may be combining the leadership of the police and fire departments (which are steps away from one another on Riverside Road).
Another possibility might be for Riverside to join forces with a neighboring department or departments and form a fire protection district. These options are just speculation at this point.
What we do know is that Village Manager Jessica Frances has not started a search for Kimura’s replacement and it doesn’t appear likely she’ll take that step anytime soon. That, to us, looks like a real examination of how the Riverside Fire Department should operate.
One thing that won’t change — and this has been confirmed by Village President Ben Sells — is that the department will remain a paid-on-call department. It simply would be too expensive for the village to maintain a full-time department.
Whatever the eventual command solution for the fire department, it’s long past time for the supervisors of the department to work together and send the message down the ranks that the Riverside Fire Department is a team, a cohesive unit that needs to work together to provide the best service possible for Riverside residents.
What’s done is done. The past won’t change, but it can provide lessons from which the department can learn and improve.