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Peoria Heights looks to add paid firefighters, delays hiring a chief

The U.S. flag flies on a flagpole in front of the Peoria Heights fire station and village hall.
Joe Deacon
The Peoria Heights Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved two measures required for hiring full-time firefighters, but the planned appointment of a new fire chief was deferred.

Peoria Heights Mayor Mike Phelan had hoped to appoint a new fire chief during Tuesday night’s village board meeting, but that process is now on hold.

“We had a candidate that the entire board had met and liked, and we thought it was an outstanding candidate. But they are relocating from out of the area and they're having a very difficult time finding suitable housing,” said Phelan.

“They are reluctant to sign an employment agreement and accept the position until they can find housing. So, I think we're going to be moving forward in maybe another direction and looking at other candidates.”

The position of fire chief has been open since Donovan Thompson resigned as head of the volunteer force earlier this year.

Phelan deferred a pair of agenda items pertaining to the appointment of a new chief, moments after trustees unanimously approved a pair of actions required to hire full-time, paid firefighters.

The first item established a Firefighters Pension Fund and a board to oversee that fund, while the second effectively renamed the existing, three-person Board of Police Commissioners to include fire commissioners.

The moves come two months after the village abandoned consideration of a possible agreement with the City of Peoria for fire protection services amid public outcry after the board originally approved a motion to explore a contract.

Phelan said the exact makeup of how the fire department will look going forward remains undetermined.

“I can't answer that; that's what we're hiring the chief (for),” he said. “We want the chief to do what I would call a ‘needs assessment’ of the department itself and make recommendations on next steps to the board. That would include the number of employees and shifts and all sorts of things.”

Phelan said he would like to have a new chief candidate selected “in less than 30 days.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.