Illinois Firefighters Will Lose Their Jobs

Updated: 07-14-2005 11:56:36 AM

The Daily Southtown

About 25 members of the Justice Fire Department stood shoulder to shoulder Monday night as the village board decided the fate of their jobs.

In a 3-to-3 vote that the mayor had to break, the village board agreed to contract out its fire and ambulance services to the Roberts Park Fire Protection District.

About 400 people turned out for Monday's meeting, forcing the crowd outside.

The 25 firefighters in attendance along with another 29 will lose their jobs effective Aug. 1 when the district is expected to take over service for all of the village. Roberts Park already serves a portion of Justice.

Deputy Fire Chief Rick Symondz said the firefighters are going to look for some kind of legal recourse.

"We will be there," said Symondz who has been with the department for 31 years.

Justice Mayor Mel VanAllen, crafted the plan as a way for the village to save money.

Trustees Vicki Kelly, Ed Jurgel and James Gabrys voted in favor of the agreement. Trustees Richard Sparr, Richard Berkowicz and Mike Maruszak voted against it.

The board also split on approving the appointment of Ernie Spatola as the new fire chief.

Before the vote, Sparr, who resigned as a firefighter last week to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, asked that the vote be postponed.

"Residents are here because they're concerned," said Sparr who served as a firefighter for 26 years.

Sparr and Maruszak also asked that Kelly's vote not be counted because her husband is a trustee with the Roberts Park Fire Protection District.

But VanAllen insisted that there was no conflict of interest and later Kelly agreed.

"People voted for me. I have my own mind," Kelly said.

She said she cast her vote "to be fiscally responsible."

Roberts Park's board is expected to vote in favor of the move later this month.

The crowd often erupted into shouts