Matthew Buckley, who was named Riverside’s fire chief back in September, officially was sworn in on Dec. 3 along with the three members of the department’s new command staff, setting a new course for a department that has weathered inner strife for several years.
Buckley told members of the Riverside Village Board, at whose meeting he and the other members of the command staff were sworn, that the delay was intentional and a show of unity.
“I wanted to wait on that, because I wanted us all to be here together to show where the fire department is going and who’s going to be leading the department,” Buckley said. “I think it’s very important to stress that as the department moves forward.”
The department’s new deputy chief is William Sherman, a lifelong Riverside resident and a member of the fire department for 41 years.
A natural choice for the position of deputy chief, Sherman is a retired battalion chief with the Arlington Heights Fire Department. He was hired as a paid-on-call firefighter in Riverside in 1974.
He was promoted to lieutenant in 1995 and to captain in 2001. He’s been involved in the department’s training and operations divisions for years.
Prior to the arrival of former Fire Chief Spencer Kimura, the department’s captains were charged with overseeing each of the village’s two fire stations. That ended when Kimura eliminated the rank of captain and installed a pair of lieutenants to head each station, according to Buckley.
The arrangement, said Buckley, resulted in confusion and gaps in communication. To remedy that, Buckley created a new command position — battalion chief — and elevated lieutenants Kevin Kuratko and Tom Bensfield to that rank.
Kuratko will oversee the main fire station on Riverside Road, while Bensfield will command Fire Station No. 2 on Pine Avenue. In addition, Kuratko will continue his role as head of the operations and maintenance divisions, and Bensfield will continue to oversee the training and fire prevention divisions.
Bensfield has been a Riverside firefighter since 1999 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2006. He also served as a fire lieutenant in the village of LaGrange. Kuratko, a Riverside firefighter since 2004 and a lieutenant since 2010, is a full-time supervisor for the Riverside Department of Public Works.
According to Buckley, the plan is for each of the new battalion chiefs to work 20 hours per week in the fire department roles.
“That could fluctuate a bit,” said Buckley. “If we need to increase those numbers, we’re always looking at ways to refine that.”
The naming of Bensfield as a battalion chief would seem to indicate that some of the rifts that existed both prior to and after Kimura’s arrival in Riverside are healing.
In 2014, Bensfield and three other firefighters filed a lawsuit against Kimura and the village following a disciplinary action taken against them related to an off-duty incident in a North Riverside tavern in late 2013.
Court documents in that case referred to factions within the department, with some siding with Buckley and others with former Fire Chief Kevin Mulligan, who was fired in 2011 and who later won a $350,000 legal settlement from the village of Riverside.
Bensfield and the others who filed suit in 2014 stated in court documents that they felt they were targeted because of their loyalty to Mulligan. Buckley’s complaints about alleged on-duty behavior by Mulligan formed a large part of the basis for Mulligan’s termination.
Asked about his decision to elevate Bensfield to battalion chief, Buckley declined to address the past issues.
“We are moving beyond all that,” Buckley said. “We’re putting the past behind us and looking toward the future.”
Instead, Buckley called the naming of the command staff “an exciting time for the fire department.”
“One of the biggest things we need is a good command structure,” Buckley said. “I think we have that now. As we move forward, I’m definitely going to expect a lot out of them, and I know they’ll deliver.”
Buckley remains the only salaried employee in the fire department. The remainder of the 28 members of the fire department, including the deputy chief and battalion chiefs, are paid-on-call firefighters. The department also has six contract firefighter/paramedics, who are supplied by Public Safety Services Inc.