More than a year after he announced he was retiring as fire chief in North Riverside, Brian Basek is officially hanging up his boots at the end of November.
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced Basek’s retirement at the village board’s meeting on Nov. 6. Basek’s last day on the job will be Nov. 30.
“He was always a consummate professional,” Hermanek said of Basek, who has been chief since May 2013 and has served as a North Riverside firefighter for 36 years. “He should be commended for his efforts over the last four and a half years as chief.”
Basek’s original plan was to retire at the end of November 2016, but Hermanek asked him to stay on after running into obstacles in hiring a replacement. In addition to ongoing tensions between village officials and union firefighters, Hermanek faced a contested re-election campaign last spring.
“It was very difficult to find a competent, qualified fire chief who couldn’t be guaranteed more than a five- or six-month term,” said Hermanek, referring to the possibility that a new mayor might want to hire his own fire chief. “A lot of people couldn’t commit to the job under a promise that I’d probably be re-elected.”
In his letter announcing his retirement at the end of the month, Basek made reference to his family’s deep roots in the village and its fire department.
“I have been fortunate to serve in the community that I grew up, and I hope that I have displayed the dedication to the fire department that was shown to me by my father, Charles Basek,” he wrote.
Basek’s father was a longtime paid-on-call firefighter, serving in that capacity until his death 2006. Basek’s brother, David, is a retired battalion chief of the Tri-State Fire Protection District.
When Basek was named North Riverside’s chief in 2013, he succeeded his brother-in-law, Ken Rouleau, who now serves the village in a part-time capacity as a fire inspector and doing commercial development plan reviews.
Although it’s taken a bit longer than he planned, Basek said he’s enjoyed the past year. During the last 12-months, Basek said he’s increased training opportunities for fire personnel. He’s also presided over an upgrade in the village’s Insurance Service Office fire protection rating.
On Nov. 6, officials also announced that Basek had obtained a grant to purchase self-contained breathing apparatuses for firefighters. The village had earmarked $150,000 to buy the units, but an Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) covered all but about $6,500 of that budgeted amount.
“When I had the opportunity to stay on as long as I wanted, I decided I would take it day by day and see how to move forward with things I hadn’t had a chance to finish,” Basek said.
That was made possible partially by the village hiring a deputy fire chief in January. Basek had served without a deputy since he was appointed chief. The position had been eliminated as a cost-saving measure.
Hermanek said the appointment of a deputy chief freed up Basek to focus less on day-to-day operations. Moving forward, Hermanek said, the department is likely to retain the deputy position.
“We found it was so important to have one that from now on there will be a deputy chief,” Hermanek said.
Hermanek reappointed Basek as fire chief on May 1, saying at the time, “He’s welcome to stay as long as he likes.”
May 1 was the start of a new fiscal year, and Basek received a raise of little less than $10,000, or about 7 percent, boosting his annual salary to $145,335. When he was named chief in 2013, Basek’s annual salary was $123,500.
Police Chief Lane Niemann, who also retires effective Nov. 30 was reappointed chief on May 1. His salary at the start of the new fiscal year was increased to $146,015 from his prior year salary of $142,500, an increase of 2.5 percent.
Deputy Chief Tom Gaertner, who took the North Riverside job after retiring as Broadview’s fire chief in 2015, is one of a handful of candidates Hermanek is considering as Basek’s replacement.
There are no other internal candidates for the job, Hermanek said. As for when the replacement will be named, Hermanek said there wasn’t a hard deadline.
“I’m not in a rush,” Hermanek said. “The place will still be running.”