August 27th, 2018 5:29 PM
By Bob Uphues
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced on Aug. 27 that he's hired a new permanent fire chief, following heated criticism both online and in person at last week's village board meeting regarding his choice for interim chief.
John Kiser, who for the past two years has served as chief of operations for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security, will start in his new post on Sept. 1. Hermanek said he will swear in Kiser at the village's board's Sept. 4 meeting.
"He's an innovative thinker who is known to be a problem solver," Hermanek said of Kiser.
The new chief will take over from Scott Boman, who has served as the North Riverside Fire Department's interim chief since July 13, when Hermanek abruptly terminated Chief Tom Gaertner and Deputy Chief Pat Schey after just seven months.
A Forest View resident, Kiser was hired as regional coordinator for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security in 2014 and was promoted to chief of operations two years later.
Since 2002, he has been a commander for the Forest View Fire Department, serving part time in that capacity since 2014, when Forest View dissolved their full-time department.
While Kiser said he's enjoyed his years with the county, he's wanted to get back to firefighting full time.
"While it was a great experience, I wanted to get back to a firehouse," said Kiser, who spent the first 28 years of his life in Brookfield. "Even though a chief, at heart I'm a fireman."
Kiser has also served as a water rescue course coordinator and fire, rescue and HAZMAT instructor at the Romeoville Fire Academy.
He got his start in the fire service in 1994 as a paid-on-call firefighter in Riverside, where he was also employed as a contract paramedic firefighter through the village's private paramedic service, PSSI, now known as PSI.
"I think they're getting an excellent fit for their department," said Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley, who works directly with Kiser on the MABAS Division 10 HAZMAT team and has worked in cooperation with him in Kiser's role for Cook County.
"He's the one person, if I had an incident, I'd call directly," said Buckley. "He's very responsive, which is what will make him successful [in North Riverside]."
In addition to his emergency services positions, Kiser has also served as an elected official for a number of years. From 2003 to 2011, Kiser was a member of the Forest View Park District board.
In 2011, he was elected to a two-year term on the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education, fending off a candidate backed by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty.
Hermanek said last week that he expected the search for the chief to be a tricky one, especially with the ongoing ill will between the department's union firefighters and village administration, which are still in the midst of bitter labor arbitration that resulted from the administration's attempt to terminate the union contract in 2014. Firefighters have been working without a contract since that time.
"I was frankly surprised that someone like [Kiser] would be interested,' Hermanek said.
But the fact that the search was out in the open, unlike the search that resulted in Boman's hire, produced more candidates, Hermanek said. Kiser reached out to express his interest in the job, said Hermanek.
Hermanek also included others, including three village trustees – Fernando Flores, Terri Sarro and Joseph Mengoni -- in the interview process, as well as reaching out to people like Buckley and North Riverside Police Chief Deborah Garcia, who also knew Kiser from his role as operations chief for Cook County Department of Homeland Security.
Kiser said he's aware of the labor situation, but said he was up for the challenge.
"I'm excited for the opportunity and look forward to the challenge in front of us," Kiser said. "No fire department job out there is perfect. All organizations have their challenges. … We'll take the challenges head on and let the chips fall where they may."
At the time Boman was hired, Hermanek said he was interim but did not rule out making the hire permanent in the future. But the hire generated significant pushback after it came to light that Boman had been named as a defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit while he served with the Oak Lawn Fire Department. The suit was settled for $850,000.
Boman had been slated to be sworn in at the North Riverside Village Board's Aug. 13 meeting, but it didn't happen.
Members of Indivisible West Suburban Action League, a progressive political group comprised of Riverside and North Riverside residents, predominantly women, attended the meeting to lodge their protest with Boman's hire and urging Hermanek to keep looking for a permanent replacement.
Hermanek revealed at the meeting that the search was ongoing, but he did not have a timetable for making a hire.
Cristin Evans, one of IDWSAL's co-leaders, expressed support for Hermanek's decision.
"We would like to thank not only Mayor Hermanek for responding to the community's concerns and taking appropriate action, but also our membership and many others in the community who showed up and spoke up on behalf of women everywhere," Evans said in an emailed statement on behalf of the group.
Hermanek downplayed the role of public pressure in the decision to seek additional candidates for the chief's position and the quick hire. He also praised Boman for a firm, calm command of the department during his time at the helm.
"He did keep the lid on things while I tried to find the right person," Hermanek said. "He did serve well for the six weeks he was here."
North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 had urged Hermanek to choose the new chief from within their ranks, but union president Chris Kribales, who has had Kiser as an instructor on a couple of occasions, said Kiser appears to be knowledgeable and well-credentialed.
"I look forward to working with any chief," Kribales said. "At the end of the day, hopefully, everybody is on the same page."
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