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Local News

Ending nears in Carol Stream fire battalion chief's termination hearing

CAROL STREAM – Both sides made their final arguments Wednesday in the disciplinary hearing for a Carol Stream fire battalion chief who says his refusal to cover up negligence on the part of the Fire Protection District is the reason behind his suspension and potential termination, although district officials claim otherwise.

Joseph Gilles, who was hired by the Carol Stream Fire Protection District 19 years ago, was suspended in September 2013 after being charged with insubordination by District Chief Richard Kolomay for failing to sign a performance improvement plan. The district has cited the reasons for seeking Gilles' termination as performance deficiencies, such as his weight and accusations he was sleeping at work.

Kolomay's attorney, Karl Ottosen, said Kolomay went out of his way to help Gilles improve before he turned to a formal disciplinary process and instigated the improvement plan.

"In a paramilitary organization, people don't have a choice whether to accept an order or not," Ottosen said in his arguments. "Top-down orders have to be followed. You can't pick and choose your orders. (Gilles') plan was to refuse orders."

However, Gilles' attorney, Aldo Botti, says the termination hearing stems from an August 2012 choking incident in which a woman died.

At that time, a Carol Stream paramedic allegedly tried to intubate a choking 81-year-old woman at a party while food was still stuck in her throat, instead of first clearing the airway. Upon arrival, a second paramedic removed the blockage and transported the woman, Armida Nonneman, to a hospital, where she died three days later.

Botti has said the first paramedic, Carey Zabran, failed to follow protocol, and questions were subsequently raised as to whether the district handled the incident properly.

Kolomay instructed Gilles to conduct an internal investigation, after which Gilles recommended the paramedic be fired, Botti said.

Zabran was told to sign a performance improvement plan, and Gilles was told to oversee her completion of the plan, which he later said was satisfactory, although he still recommended she be terminated.

The paramedic eventually resigned from active duty with the district, and she now receives a non-duty disability pension. Gilles was asked to sign and complete a similar plan related to issues cited by Kolomay, Botti said.

“The PIP is unlawful; the PIP is vague," said Botti, adding the plan is subjective, requiring the chief to decide whether Gilles passes or fails.

He said Kolomay has no authority to make those decisions.

Kolomay's attorney presented his arguments to the Carol Stream Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners, focusing not on the August 2012 incident, but on Gilles' refusal to sign the plan.

"Two paramedics have been totally discredited on that case; it has nothing to do with this case," Ottosen said. "As long as a directive is given, an employee has to follow it unless it is illegal. There is nothing on PIP that is illegal. "

Due to the volume of material the commission needs to review before making a decision, group deliberations in closed session will begin Wednesday.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15, when the commission will disclose its findings.

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