Wonder Lake Fire hires new deputy chief, battalion chief after sexual harassment allegations, 11 staffers quit

Former deputy chief violated sexual harassment policy, according to investigator

The Wonder Lake Fire Protection District has hired a new deputy chief, a battalion chief and more firefighters after 11 of the department’s part-time staff left in 2023 following allegations of sexual harassment in the department.

An investigation into those allegations against former Deputy Chief Christopher “Chris” Weber found that he violated the district’s sexual harassment policy and other fire district policies, according to an executive summary of that report obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The fire district declined to provide the final report as provided to the board at its December meeting, citing attorney-client privilege.

Originally, the board had intended to release the full report, said Wonder Lake Fire Protection District President Todd Rishling, who reversed that decision. “It is extensively long, and I think it would be damaging to the [firefighter] who made the complaint.

“I do not want to hurt an individual who had the courage to come forward” with harassment claims, Rishling said. “I believe it would be damaging to her, and I believe that is not fair.”

According to the summary, Weber and the unnamed female firefighter voluntarily began a romantic relationship, which the district does not have a policy against.

“However, it is clear that Chris Weber used his higher rank to harass [the firefighter] when they were having difficulties in their relationship or when Chris was feeling jealous of [her] interactions with other ... personnel.”

In June, the two had a physical altercation, after which Weber “told her that she was suspended and not to go to work,” according to the summary.

Weber was placed on administrative leave June 27. The female firefighter was granted an order of protection by a McHenry County judge July 12 that was later extended.

“It is notable that the McHenry County Circuit Court has found that there was sufficient evidence to enter a plenary order of protection against [Chris] Weber,” according to the summary report.

Chris Weber, the son of Wonder Lake Fire Chief Mike Weber, resigned from the district in August. According to the report, which was prepared by the law firm Ottosen DiNolfo Hasenbalg & Castaldo, Chris Weber’s attorneys did not respond to interview requests as part of the investigation.

Had Chris Weber not resigned, he would have been fired based on the information presented in the final report, Rishling said, adding that he “will never be rehired” by the Wonder Lake district.

We are turning the page, and things are going in the right direction.”

—  Todd Rishling, Wonder Lake Fire Protection District board president

The current fire district board now requires mandatory harassment training, including new staff, Rishling said. Those new hires include Deputy Chief Matt Yegge and Battalion Chief Kurt Rodewald.

Both are well-known in the northwest Illinois suburban firefighting service and were selected from a pool of 14 applications from outside the organization.

“We hired an HR consultant to help us do this process, and it was a multistep process with external evaluators assisting,” Rishling said.

Between five and 10 new employees have been hired, with some still in the process of receiving the appropriate certifications.

“We are turning the page, and things are going in the right direction,” Rishling said.

Changes to the department’s policies now include requiring personnel to disclose relationships to superiors, Rishling said.

He said as the investigation progressed the past few months, it “has not been a comfortable situation” for the fire district.

“We do not take this lightly,” Rishling said.