The president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 announced a “vote of no confidence” in Fire Chief Brian Basek during a blistering and, at times, personal denouncement at the end of the village board’s March 20 meeting, and which appeared timed to inflict maximum political damage and embarrassment to Mayor Hubert Hermanek just two weeks before the April 4 election.
In a council chamber packed to overflowing with supporters of both union firefighters and the village’s administration, union President Chris Kribales said members cast unanimous “no confidence” votes and read a two-page prepared statement blasting Basek’s “inability to provide sound leadership and effectively manage the affairs of this fire department.”
Basek, a full-time North Riverside firefighter for 32 years and chief since 2013, announced his retirement last year and intended on walking away from the job at the end of November 2016.
He agreed to stay on through the election as a favor to Hermanek, since candidates for the job were leery of taking a new job with a mayoral election just over the horizon.
The chief sat silently through Kribales three-minute statement, during which the union president criticized him for “flagrant apathy for public safety,” “orders to use antiquated apparatus and equipment” while new equipment sat idle, “intentionally misinterpret[ing] the labor agreement, and “micromanag[ing] the day-to-day operations of his command staff.”
“This undereducated, underqualified mayoral appointee conveys an arrogance and ignorance dangerous to his position by not allowing positive, proactive decisions necessary for this department to move confidently forward,” said Kribales to the applause of his supporters.
In a phone interview after the meeting, Basek told the Landmark, “I don’t want to dignify Mr. Kribales’ remarks with a response.”
Hermanek responded at the meeting to the no-confidence announcement by rattling off a list of accomplishments, from setting department policies to securing a grant for a new fire engine, that lasted six minutes. At the conclusion of Hermanek’s remarks, many in the audience along with all of the members of the village board, responded with a standing ovation in support of the fire chief.
“I was humbled and appreciative of the standing ovation from all of the elected officials and residents at the board meeting,” Basek said.
While the fire chief didn’t want to respond to the vote of no confidence, Hermanek called the union president’s statement “embarrassing, disgusting and uncalled for.”
The mayor also said it was an “election stunt” near the climax of a campaign where administration three-year effort to privatize the fire department have drawn clear battle lines.
Kribales told the Landmark that firefighters took the no-confidence vote “about a month ago.” Basek and Hermanek said no one from the fire department mentioned anything to them about the vote in the past month.
“It was done solely for political reasons, to embarrass the chief, which is their way of embarrassing me,” Hermanek said. “I think this opened a lot of people’s eyes. They’re not the angels everyone thought they were.
“To go after him personally, personally attacking his competence and intelligence – it’s just uncalled for.”
Hermanek said he wished he could have reappointed Basek for another three years as chief on March 20.
“He’d have gotten unanimously approved,” Hermanek said.
Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, who stood to applaud after the mayor’s March 20 remarks, is running against Hermanek for mayor and has made the fire department his number one issue for the past two municipal elections.
In 2015, Demopoulos was re-elected trustee, leading a slate of candidates calling itself Save Our Firefighters.
Since 2013, he has supported the fire union’s proposal for the village to drop its longtime private paramedic service and use part-timers to man ambulances while union firefighters, most of whom are not cross-trained, get paramedic certification.
Demopoulos and the union want the department to be staffed only by union firefighter/paramedics and Demopoulos has embraced the union’s call for additional staffing.
Paramedic Services of Illinois, the village’s paramedic service for more than three decades, has contributed $8,885 to the VIP Party, of which Hermanek and every village trustee with the exception of Demopoulos is a member. Their last contribution was for $1,500 on Feb. 14.
While state campaign contribution records don’t indicate any large donors to Demopoulos’ campaign to be from individuals or groups associated with firefighters, past Demopoulos campaigns drew financial support from local and out-of-town firefighters.
In 2015, the biggest contributors to Save Our Firefighters were a pair of Berwyn firefighters, which each gave $1,000. The campaign also received donations from the Berwyn Firefighters Union ($250), the Cicero Firefighters Union ($250) and a veteran North Riverside firefighter ($200).