By Bob Uphues
North Riverside Fire Chief John Kiser resigned from his post Sept. 3, paving the way for the village to hire Bob McDermott, who is retiring from a 32-year career as a firefighter in Forest Park at the end of the month.
McDermott, 53, a Forest Park native and Nazareth Academy graduate who lives in LaGrange Park, was elevated to fire chief in Forest Park in 2016 after 11 years as deputy chief. He started his career as a full-time firefighter there in 1988.
McDermott, who will split his time between North Riverside and Forest Park through the end of September, reported for his first day in North Riverside on Sept. 4.
"The timing could not have been more perfect," said McDermott, who said it was time for him to leave the firehouse that'd been his second home for three decades.
"I've been either deputy chief or chief in Forest Park for the past 17 years, and I think there comes a point where organizations are ready for a change," McDermott said. "I think Forest Park is ready for a change."
While both Kiser and North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said the parting of the ways was mutual, the timing was unexpected and things came together very rapidly this week.
Hermanek said he interviewed McDermott on Monday, Aug. 30 after an internal candidate had turned down an offer to become fire chief. That candidate reportedly recommended McDermott for the post. The Forest Park chief had just announced he was retiring effective Sept. 30.
"Timing is everything," said Hermanek. "I think he'll be a real good fit. He knows the guys and gets along with them. I think this is a step toward permanent peace over there."
Hermanek was referring to a years' long feud between village government and union firefighters that peaked during a five-year campaign to privatize the fire service in North Riverside.
The lengthy court battle, which started in the summer of 2014 and resulted in expensive and seemingly endless litigation and labor complaints, ended in December 2019 when the two sides inked a seven-year contract that expires next April 30.
McDermott was well aware of that history when he decided to take the job, saying both the mayor and Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti assured him that battle was over.
"The mayor and administrator said the past is past and they want to move forward, and I believe them," McDermott said. "I want to be part of that process."
Hermanek and Kiser reportedly have agreed to the terms of his separation from the village, though they have not been made public yet.
Kiser, who celebrated his second anniversary as North Riverside's fire chief last week, confirmed that he had submitted a letter of resignation to the mayor.
"The relationship recently has been stressed," said Kiser. "Both parties were in agreement that it was time for a change and maybe another person might be better for the position."
Asked where the stress came from, Kiser indicated it was North Riverside's pervasive penchant for politicking.
"Politics in North Riverside obviously is very heavy," Kiser said. "Playing the political game may not be my best attribute."
As for the man who will be replacing him as chief in North Riverside, Kiser had nothing but positive words for McDermott.
"He's obviously a well-qualified candidate and familiar with the area," said Kiser, noting that McDermott was also president of MABAS Division 11, a mutual aid organization that includes the North Riverside Fire Department. "He's has a great relationship with people here that should make him successful as the chief of North Riverside."
Kiser said that while he doesn't have another job lined up immediately, he was sure he'd be able to land somewhere else.
"I've had a variety of opportunities over the last six months," said Kiser, who came to North Riverside after a stint as chief of operations for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and years as a firefighter in Forest View. "I'm confident based off my skill set, resume and experience that I'll land on my feet."