Jim Keener

Deputy Chief Jim Keener, of the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District, talks to Bradley Mayor Mike Watson after Monday’s village board meeting. The village board named Keener interim chief of the Bradley Fire Department through a 4-1 vote. Keener will split his time between both fire departments for six months.

BRADLEY — Bradley has hired the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association to complete a thorough analysis of its fire department in an effort to determine in what direction the department will go in the coming years.

However, the Bradley Village Board was clear on two points. The village wants to retain its fire force and is not anticipating any type of consolidation.

The first two steps in this process is to complete an in-depth evaluation of the department’s performance, meaning how well the fire fighting force and ambulance service responds to emergencies and calls for service.

The second step was the hiring of an interim chief to not only lead the department over the next six months but to also assist in the study of the department.

The board hired Bourbonnais Deputy Chief Jim Keener, 53, and a member of the department since November 1990.

The village will reimburse Bourbonnais $5,535 per month over the next six months. If Keener serves the full six months, his service will cost Bradley $33,210.

By a 5-0 vote, the board voted to hire the chiefs’ association at a cost of $25,000. David Slivinski, the association’s program director for assessment and consulting services, told the board he hopes to have the analysis complete by the end of 2019.

After that, the board, by a 4-1 vote, approved the intergovernmental agreement with Bourbonnais Fire to use Keener for at least 20 hours per week during the next six months.

A packed Bradley Village Hall, with many Bradley firefighters on hand, listened as the village discussed moves with the department.

Rumors had been swirling throughout the village that big changes were about to hit the department.

Many were concerned the village board was about to make a move to hand over control of the department on a permanent basis to Bourbonnais. Bradley’s interim Mayor Mike Watson quickly dispelled that rumor.

There has been unease within the department, however. Just more than a week ago, the Bradley administration failed to renew a six-month contract with interim Fire Chief Jim Eggert. Eggert’s salary for a second, six-month tenure would have been $66,000.

Eggert had replaced former longtime Fire Chief Jim Travis, who resigned last year after a long career with the village.

Board members and the administration reasoned the hiring of Keener at the lower cost allows them to hire the consultant without any increased expense.

Bradley’s fire force is comprised of six full-time members and about 15 paid-on-call firefighters.

Fire Lt. Tari Roselius, a 17-year member of the force, pressed the board that firefighters want to be a part of the process in seeking a solution. She suggested a blue ribbon panel be created to address issues such as staffing, budget and billing.

“We are asking you to dedicate some more time to us so we can continue to serve this community with pride,” she said.

Watson said they would be included in the process. However, after the meeting, Slivinski said the project’s first phase simply will be data collection and conclusion drawn from the data.

Slivinski said the worst thing that could be done would be making changes to the department without having the data to support those moves.

“We need to find out how the fire department is performing. How fast are they getting to calls? Where are the calls for service coming from? Let’s look at the results how the department is doing,” he said. “Then, how can those be improved.”

Slivinski said there is no perfect fire department, but he said a review is essential.

“If you don’t know how well you are doing, how do you make adjustments? We first must get a baseline of information. The data will provide the framework to make decisions,” he said.

He hopes to review the three most recent years of data.

Bradley had a review of the department completed in 2005, Watson noted. He said that examination identified 26 recommendations. Of those 26, he said, 24 were designated as “high priority,” meaning they needed to be implemented within one year.

He said during the next 14 years, the bulk of the recommendations were not acted upon.

“Upon taking office as a trustee and now acting mayor, I have had limited exposure to the details of the severe gaps in our first department. However, being fully aware of the seriousness, I am committed to finding a solution.”

Watson said all options will be examined. He noted the consultant will look at issues such as staffing, station location, equipment, cooperation with neighboring departments and dispatch.

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