04-28-2004, 04:31 PM #1
New Chief in Chicago to shake up the department
Trotter plans major changes
Shakeup expected by new fire chief
Cortez Trotter plans sweeping changes in the top ranks after he assumes the reins of the Chicago Fire Department, sources said Tuesday.
Trotter takes over as acting commissioner Saturday and is expected to win formal confirmation by the City Council May 5.
"Nothing will happen before confirmation," said one city official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But immediately after, you can look for broad change."
Which senior department officials are targeted for replacement, and who their successors will be, is a closely guarded secret.
"I have not talked to him about what he proposes to do, but I am not surprised he would try to make changes, and I think he should make changes as new commissioner," said Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), chairman of the council's Police and Fire Committee.
"He is the one in charge and wears the jacket [if things go wrong], and he has to have a team he has confidence in," Carothers said. "Unfortunately, he takes the reins when the Fire Department has been tested and has had difficult times, but I think he is up to that challenge."
The department has taken heavy criticism for its handling of the fire last October that claimed six lives in the Cook County Administration Building, 69 W. Washington St., and has been embarrassed by racial slurs in a series of transmissions over department radio frequencies.
Trotter, who would become the city's first African-American fire commissioner, talked of the need for change, including racial and ethnic change, when he was named to the post by Mayor Richard Daley earlier this month.
The commissioner has complete say only in the appointment of the most senior department officials.
Under retiring Commissioner James Joyce, 19 of 42 of the top management posts are held by minorities, 45 percent.
Also, lawyers for the city met with officials from the Illinois Department of Labor Tuesday to discuss a citation issued against the Fire Department over alleged command and communications failures during the October blaze and alleged shortcomings in training.
Last week, Joyce called the seven-count citation vague and said city officials had not been given enough information to respond to the allegations. Speaking to the media before he had been fully briefed on Tuesday's meeting, Joyce said he was told it was "extremely cooperative" and that the city would file a formal appeal May 6.
"I believe that the way information was exchanged today, both sides have a clearer understanding of the issues," said Joyce, who said he could not elaborate on details from the meeting because he wasn't there.
Cook County, which owns the building, was hit with a nine-count citation on alleged violations of the fire code and workplace safety. Its lawyers will meet with state officials Wednesday.
In Tuesday's meeting with the city, Labor Department officials voiced concern about the quality of radio transmissions and "the flow of information" at the fire scene, but did not give examples, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department.
"We will attempt to show, through whatever documentation we have, that this is what we were doing on the scene, here is how it worked, this is what our response was," Hoyle said.
On the issue of incident command, the state officials cited examples of not doing top-to-bottom searches of stairwells, failing to take control of the building's public-address system and failing to ask for a building manager's plan of the building layout showing where stairwells are located, Hoyle said.
The officials gave one example of failing to use the two-in-two-out buddy system on the scene, but did not identify any firefighters allegedly left without proper backup, she said.
One alleged violation relating to lack of firefighter training on incident-command procedures was based on testimony before a county-appointed commission investigating the blaze in which a firefighter said he did not receive the instruction, Hoyle said.
"We intend to show them we do have that training," she said.
Stephanie Noble, spokeswoman for the Labor Department, said the meeting was "cooperative in nature." If the city files a formal appeal, a public hearing will be scheduled within 45 days with an administrative law judge presiding, Noble said.
Karen Seimetz, deputy corporation counsel for the city, on Tuesday told a Cook County judge presiding over civil litigation that the Police Department intends to wrap up its investigation into the fire by the end of May.
The city has been withholding the release of a report by the Fire Department's Office of Fire Investigation pending the investigation by the police bomb and arson unit.
Judge William Maddux ordered the city to release the Fire Department's report to lawyers involved in civil litigation by June 1.
Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, three of whose employees died in the fire, sent a copy of a letter to news outlets complaining that his office in the building was being moved in retaliation for his criticism of officials after the fire.
Murphy's office will be moved from the 18th and part of the 19th floor to the 7th floor. As sprinklers are installed and some offices are moved back in, county officials are putting the offices that receive public traffic closer to ground level.
Because the building's first 10 floors are larger than the rest, Murphy's office will have more room, said Michael LaMont, director of the county's office of capital planning and development.
The county will also replace carpeting and paint the walls before Murphy's department moves back in, scheduled for the summer, LaMont said.
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