Chicago Heights residents fight firefighter cuts

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. (WLS) -- A south suburban community is banding together to fight cuts at its fire stations.

Budget problems are forcing Chicago Heights to reduce its number of firefighters, which has many homeowners and business owners concerned about safety.

"We need to keep full paramedics and the firemen and firewomen at each station, 17 strong," resident Phil Harding said.

"Neighbors are really upset. They say it is not right the things that are going on," resident Willie Mae Taber said.

Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez sent out a letter to residents last week detailing a five-point modernization plan for the fire department of 57 full-time firefighters. It includes hiring part-time firefighters to cut down on overtime and pension costs and reducing the manpower at fire stations from 17 to 15 per shift.

"We are not proposing any cuts into our full-time fire department, but what we are looking to do is we would like to add on certified part-time firemen," Mayor Gonzalez said.

Chicago Heights Local 711 is against the plan. They've been trying to get the word out with the "Keep 17" signs that are popping up in yards across town.

"Any number of cuts to that 17 is devastating to operational safety whether it is dealing with multiple ambulance calls or structure fires," Chicago Heights Local 711 President Steve Koenig said.

The mayor said the city would use some of the savings to upgrade their ambulance fleet. Residents say they just want to make sure their level of service isn't compromised.

"I have had the paramedics by my house many times when my mother was still alive, they got there within five minutes," Harding said.

The mayor stressed that the talks are ongoing with the union and a final decision has not been made.
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