Firefighters in North Riverside had a busy time in the past week. First they, and an army of firefighters and police officers from surrounding communities, were able to quickly contain an apartment building fire that could have been much worse.
With a roof constructed with an apparently open chamber between it and the ceilings of top-floor apartments, smoke quickly spread throughout the entire apartment complex, driving residents from their units.
Officials aren’t exactly sure how many people lived in the building – at 44 units, it’s easily 90 or more – but considering the fact that it started just before midnight, when many presumably were asleep, it’s a miracle no one died and only a handful treated at hospitals for smoke inhalation.
The scene, as described by those responding, was chaotic as emergency personnel evacuated the smoking structure. The night even included an apparently intoxicated man trying to enter the property while firefighters were still on scene about 1:20 a.m. and squaring up to fight police before he was wrestled to the ground and arrested.
In the wake of the fire, the American Red Cross the night after the fire stationed themselves in the community room of the police department to provide emergency assistance while BEDS Plus began collecting information from those seeking financial assistance in order to find new housing — because it will be a long time before the apartment building is habitable and doubtful that those tenants will want to lease from the same property management company ever again.
Three days later, firefighters were smiling and taking photos with the village’s mayor – not exactly something that would have happened in the past decade or so – after signing a new five-year contract that is about as big a win for the firefighters’ union as they could have imagined.
Just four years ago, the union and the village were still locked in an existential battle over the future of union firefighters in North Riverside. In 2014, the village attempted to privatize firefighting services, proposing to use PSI to provide firefighters, just as it had provided paramedics since the mid-1980s.
The village went so far as to issue termination notices to the union firefighters. Even though the village ultimately lost that battle and a change in the village’s administration softened resistance to the idea of union firefighter/paramedics, we never thought such a change would come so soon.
Because the switch was the subject of union contract negotiations, the idea was not even publicly discussed prior to the announcement on Oct. 17 of the new contract. Time will tell if the new arrangement ends up saving the village money in the long run, as has been promised.
One thing is certain, North Riverside won’t have to depend on the whims of the private labor market to know whether it has enough bodies to staff an ambulance or make sure those paramedics aren’t exhausted from keeping them staffed round the clock.
Privatizing public safety is never a great idea, and that’s now no longer North Riverside’s worry.