Brian Basek could never say his three-plus years as fire chief in North Riverside were dull. Promoted shortly after the election of Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. in 2013, Basek’s tenure was challenging almost from the start and marked with resentment from firefighters hostile to the village’s attempts to crush their union and privatize the department.
Now, with firefighters and village officials back at the negotiating table and the relationship between firefighters and the village administration slowly repairing itself, Basek is calling it a day.
After nearly 32 years as a full-time firefighter and three more as a paid-on-call firefighter in the early 1980s, Basek is retiring. His last day on the job will be Nov. 30.
“I’ve been to other firefighter retirement parties and asked them when they knew it was time to retire. They said, ‘When that time comes, you will know,'” said Basek. “It got to the point where it was time to turn the page.”
The 55-year-old Basek, however, downplayed the role of more than two years of labor strife in his decision to retire now.
“Unfortunately when you are running any type of department you don’t know what’s coming your way,” Basek said. “It’s never easy, but that had nothing to do with my decision. I tried to do what’s best for the community. Whoever takes the position, I hope they continue to do the same thing.”
Basek was raised in North Riverside, and his father Charles, a longtime machinist for Commonwealth Edison, was a paid-on-call firefighter in the village before the department went full time and stayed on as a paid-on-call firefighter until his death in 2006.
Charles Basek’s commitment to the department served as an example for both of his sons, Brian and David, who is retired from his position as battalion chief for the Tri-State Fire Protection District.
“My brother and me learned a lot about dedication from our dad,” Basek said. “He inspired us to do the line of work we did.”
Basek was hired as a paid-on-call firefighter in 1981 and became a full-time firefighter in 1985. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1997 and served in that capacity until he was named chief on May 13, 2013.
He succeeded Ken Rouleau, who is also Basek’s brother-in-law. After his retirement, Rouleau landed a part-time job as an inspector in the village of North Riverside’s building department.
As for Basek’s plans, he said he has told Hermanek he’ll be available to ensure a smooth transition, but wants to “do some of the hobbies I did before, relax and travel.” Basek is married with three daughters, the youngest of whom will graduate from college next spring.
Hermanek said finding a replacement for Basek will be a bit of a challenge, because he can only ensure the job through April 4, 2017, which is Election Day. Hermanek is running for a second term as mayor. He’s unsure whether he’ll face a challenge; so far, no one has stepped forward.
“It’s going to have to be a six-month solution,” Hermanek said. “I’m keeping all of my options open, but the best solution is probably to get someone from the outside.”