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Carol Stream fire battalion chief claims he's facing termination for refusing cover up death due to negligence

Published: Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 7:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:58 p.m. CDT

CAROL STREAM – A Carol Stream Fire Protection District battalion chief says he is facing termination after refusing to cover up negligence within the district.

Battalion Chief Joseph Gilles said he has been suspended because he spoke out – against the wishes of District Chief Richard Kolomay – about a death caused by a paramedic's failure to follow protocol, according to Gilles' attorney John Botti.

The source of the controversy began Aug. 25, 2012, when a woman at a party choked on a piece of food. A fellow guest came to her assistance, but when a Carol Stream paramedic arrived, Botti said she told the guest to stop.

The paramedic did not follow protocol to open the airway and the food blockage remained in place until a second Carol Stream paramedic unit arrived up to 15 minutes later, according to Botti. The second paramedic then removed the food and transported the patient to the hospital, where she died three days later.

After the incident, someone called the district questioning the performance of the first paramedic, Botti said.

Kolomay asked Gilles to conduct an internal investigation into the matter, after which Gilles recommended that the paramedic be fired and that the family of the deceased, the hospital that treated her, and the coroner all be notified, according to Botti.

“He believes that the individual involved should have been held accountable,” Botti said.

Kolomay said that the district would not contact anyone, according to Botti.

Botti said Kolomay then asked the paramedic to sign a performance improvement plan, telling her that if she did not sign the plan, she would face termination.

She complied and Gilles was directed to oversee her progress, according to Botti. He told Kolomay that her performance under the plan was satisfactory, but still recommended she be fired due to the choking incident.

Gilles was taken off supervision of the paramedic's performance. A different battalion chief was assigned to review her progress with the plan, Botti said. Then, she resigned.

After that, Kolomay attempted to place Gilles on a similar plan, according to Botti, citing performance deficiencies such as his weight and accusations that he was sleeping at work. Kolomay told Gilles that if he didn't submit to the plan, he would be fired. Gilles refused, which Kolomay deemed to be insubordination.

Gilles was relieved of his command duties and required to turn in his badge and keys Sept. 27, Botti said, although he had been suspended prior to that date. His locker was also cleaned out.

Karl Otteson, who is Kolomay's attorney, said Gilles was given ample opportunity to voice concerns about the plan and did not do so and that the ongoing process is the result of Gilles' performance as a district employee and his failure to meet expectations.

“We do not believe that there is any truth to the allegations being made,” Otteson said.

Botti said that although Gilles' weight was used as grounds for a performance improvement plan, he weighed the same amount on his hire date, 18 years ago.

Gilles had an excellent record with the district before the incidents concerning the paramedic and the performance improvement plan took place, according to Botti, who said Gilles refused to sign the plan because he was concerned that signing it would lead to his resignation.

At his first termination hearing Oct. 9, Gilles was told by district representatives that he was being paid with accrued leave time, Botti said. He previously believed he was suspended with pay. When his leave time runs out, a suspension with pay will begin.

His next termination hearing will take place at 5 p.m. Dec. 2.

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