July 01--WASHINGTON -- The Washington Fire Department Board will not renew Fire Chief Mike Vaughn's contract after it expires in July, a move that has angered firefighters and paramedics within the department.
In response to the loss of their chief, the firefighters and paramedics have started a petition for presentation at the first July meeting of Washington's safety committee, in the hope that the city will consider taking over the department, dissolving the board and retaining Vaughn. Currently, the Washington Fire Department is considered a private organization that contracts with the city of Washington.
The board voted June 10 not to offer Vaughn another contract when his current one expires at the end of July, ending his six-year tenure as the Fire Department's first full-time chief. Four of the board commissioners voted in favor of letting the contract expire with the final commissioner abstaining. Vaughn was awarded the Firefighter's Medal of Valor last month during the 21st annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial Ceremony in Springfield.
Board President Bob Linsley cited a "difference of philosophies" as a reason for the board's decision.
"He was our first paid fire chief and he did a good job," Linsley said. "But it's time for a change."
Vaughn said he was stunned by the board's decision.
"I'd give my right arm to stay here," Vaughn said.
Linsley said disciplinary reasons were not a factor in the decision, but he did not elaborate on the opposing philosophies. Within the ranks of the department, both firefighters and paramedics have expressed shock and frustration with the board.
"A lot of us are not very happy about it," said Richard Archdale, a firefighter with the department for four years. "We think the board is acting selfishly and not what's in the best interest of the department."
"It was pretty shocking and came out of nowhere," said Bradd Vescogni, a 10-year paramedic with the department. "A lot of the guys are a little upset with how the board is acting."
People within the department believe the board's dissatisfaction with Vaughn stemmed from an incident in early 2013 whenfirefighters and paramedics brought a proposal to the board about the city taking over ownership of the department. According to Archdale and others, the board nixed the proposal, causing tension between the two factions. Subsiding during the aftermath of the Nov. 17 tornado that ripped through the city, Archdale said the board's actions June 10 were the culmination of the past year's events and signaled an overreach of the board's power.
Linsley said the board will search for a full-time fire chief, but a schedule for the search has not been determined.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch. Marlo Guetersloh of Gatehouse Media Illinois contributed to this report.
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