Fire Consumes Home After Firefighter Layoffs in Washington Park
WASHINGTON PARK, IL (KTVI) – Washington Park Fire Department faced its first house fire early Friday morning after the village board’s decision to layoff all but one firefighter this week. The interim chief who is the only paid fireman and two volunteers showed up with one truck to fight the vacant house fire at North Park and North 57th Street. Mutual aid agreements brought additional departments to the scene, but that took some time.
The house was engulfed by flames when the Washington Park fire truck arrived. Firefighters were unable to save it. Friday afternoon it was still smoldering with no fire trucks on the scene.
Residents nearby expressed concern over the layoffs. “If they’re doing their jobs and saving lives in the community and coming to rescue people they should definitely be compensated for it,” said Tracy Randolph.
Patsy Reddick who lives less than a block away from the fire worried wind could send sparks to her property. “It’s just a dangerous situation and I think they need more than one fireman and they shouldn’t have laid those firemen off,” she said.
Village Trustee Ferris Williams voted against the layoffs. He is upset the board chose to hire a consultant at $40,000 a year instead of pay firefighters.
The consultant, Ray Coleman, said he had worked as a volunteer trying to unravel financial issues for the village since 2008. “I’m worth every penny I’m being paid,” he said Friday.
A newly sworn in mayor and some trustees led the move to layoff seven firefighters and three public works employees. Washington Park faces serious financial troubles and has had difficulty meeting its payroll regularly for several years.
“If you go back and review the court records you’ll see that some of the trustees had to actually file court action against the former mayor to access the financial records,” said consultant Coleman. “So there’s always been some factional fighting among board members,” he added.
In June Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka called on Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to investigate the village after an independent audit Topinka ordered failed to turn up village financial reports required by state law.