Local News

‘We cannot fire them’: Kendall County Board chairman reminds colleagues fire district boards are independent

YORKVILLE – When the Bristol-Kendall Fire Protection District Board voted to dismiss a firefighter for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing, the crowd in attendance was angered.

Since the board’s Oct. 14 decision, Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder seems to have been getting an earful from residents who are upset with the fire protection district’s trustees.

While the five trustees are appointed by the county board, the fire district board is an independent entity, Gryder reminded members of the county board at a meeting on Oct. 19.

“We do not have any oversight over them. They act as if they are their own separately elected body,” Gryder said.

Gryder said he has received numerous calls and emails about the fire trustees.

“We cannot fire them. We cannot ask them to resign. They like us had a difficult decision to make and they made it,” Gryder said. “And there’s nothing else we can do about that. They are their own entity.”

Gryder seemed to anticipate that county board members would be getting quizzed by their constituents on the fire board situation.

“So if you are asked about it, I know I’ve been asked by more than a dozen people in the last few days,” Gryder said.

The five trustees voted unanimously to terminate the employment of firefighter-paramedic George Richter on three counts of insubordination.

The board includes President Ken Johnson and trustees Jeff Farren, Marty Schwartz, Gary Schlapp and Phyllis Yabsley.

Richter, 31, of Marseilles, had refused three separate orders beginning in September to get the vaccine or begin testing for the virus.

In a speech before the fire district board, Richter declared himself “firm in conscientious objection” to the executive order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker for all firefighters and paramedics to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

The fire district trustees made clear they had found the decision difficult but believed themselves bound to accept the advice of their legal counsel.

The Bristol-Kendall Fire Protection District covers the city of Yorkville and surrounding unincorporated areas. The district maintains three fire stations and is staffed by 24 full-time employees, 30 part-time individuals and nine contract paramedics.

Bristol-Kendall Fire Chief Jim Bateman said 40% of the department’s firefighters and paramedics are vaccinated for COVID-19, while all the rest are undergoing weekly tests for the virus, in compliance with the governor’s order.