Departures will test Joliet’s federal firefighter grant
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2012 9:20PM
The Joliet City Council in August voted to take the federal grant money, which is being used to hire eight firefighters. But those positions have yet to be filled. File photo | Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:38AM
JOLIET — The city has yet to hire eight new firefighters with a federal grant, and it already will be faced with the question of whether to hire more.
Two Joliet firefighters have given notice that they are leaving, triggering an early test of whether the city will have to replace any departing firefighters to keep the $2 million grant.
The Joliet City Council in August voted to take the federal grant money, which is being used to hire eight firefighters. But some council members questioned whether the terms of the grant would force the city, already operating on a tight budget, to maintain a force of 209 firefighters or lose the money.
Fire Chief Joseph Formhals told the council’s public safety committee last week that he had received notice that two firefighters are leaving. He said he will apply for waivers, which, if allowed, would maintain the full grant funding without requiring that the city replace the two departing firefighters.
Meanwhile, Formhals informed the committee the city will have to develop a new hiring list for the first time since 2007 because of a change in state law.
The city plans to use the current list next month when it hires the eight new firefighters funded by the federal grant.
The departure of two firefighters so soon after the grant was accepted is not a complete surprise, Formhals said. The chief noted he had previously informed the council of the possibility that one of the firefighters, who has been on workman’s compensation for a year, could leave. But he said he was surprised by another firefighter who decided to retire.
Councilman Robert O’Dekirk, who had voted to accept the grant but questioned Formhal’s earlier estimates on how many firefighters were likely to leave, said Wednesday the city should clear up the waiver issue immediately.
“Before we go to far on this, let’s find out if we’re going to get the waiver or not,” O’Dekirk said. “If we do, this is going to be a good program. If not, we’re going to have to address this right away.”
Formhals said he believes that the city would not lose all of the $2 million if it does not replace two firefighters. But it could lose funding for two firefighters if it does not get the waiver.
The city is hiring off of a fire department list that expires in February. The list has been maintained since 2007, raising some eyebrows because a grandson of Mayor Thomas Giarrante has moved up from 50th to a spot where he’s likely to be among the eight firefighters hired with the grant money.
City officials renewed the list twice. City Attorney Jeff Plyman said the city will not be able to maintain the list after it expires in February because of a change in state law affecting how long home-rule municipalities like Joliet can maintain a hiring list before testing again.