Mike Vaughn out as Washington chief

Marlo Guetersloh and Steve Stein GateHouse Media Illinois

A large crowd of supporters for Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn were expected to pack a City Council meeting Monday.

Vaughn’s contract, which expires this month, wasn’t renewed June 10 by the board that runs the Washington Fire Department, a not-for-profit organization.

The decision came about a month after Vaughn, an Illinois Valley Central High School graduate, received the Firefighter’s Medal of Valor during the 21st annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial ceremony in Springfield for his heroic actions during the Nov. 17 tornado.

Since the news of the board’s action broke last week, some community members have joined Washington firefighters and paramedics in their desire to dissolve the board, have the city run the fire department and retain Vaughn as chief. The effort includes a petition drive and calls via social media to speak out Monday at the City 

Council meeting and at the Washington Fire Department board meeting Tuesday.

City Administrator Tim Gleason said the City Council expected to hear from supporters of Vaughn.

“The residents should be allowed to have their say at a council meeting,” Gleason said. He anticipated Mayor Gary Manier would ask for a spokesperson during the public comments period during Monday’s meeting. 

Gleason said while the council will listen to Vaughn’s supporters, the City Council is not the board that made the decision on Vaughn’s contract. 

The fire department board meets Tuesday night. The board voted to allow Vaughn’s contract to expire at the end of the month. Four of the five members voted in favor and firefighter Brian Barron, who represents the department on the board, abstained. Barron could not be reached for comment.

If the city is to take control of the fire department, it’s unclear what actions the city must take.

Gleason said previously that discussions have been held in the past about the fire department becoming a full-time department of the city. However, he and fire board officials have acknowledged that those discussions concluded with the merger happening years from now. 

“With the way the city is growing, there is no doubt that at some point the department will be part of the city,” Gleason said. 

Mayor Gary Manier and Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Gee each said it may require a voter referendum. Gee said finances could be an issue.

“We’d need to see if it’s fiscally viable or not for the city to run the department,” he said. “I’d be interested in exploring the possibilities.”

Gleason said there have been no discussions about a possible city takeover of the department. He said he would explore options “if that’s what the mayor and council tell me to do.”

The fire board voted June 10 not to renew Vaughn’s contract. He said he learned about it June 17. 

“I’m humbled by the support,” Vaughn said. “I love my job, this community and our department.”

Vaughn began his firefighting career as a volunteer in Washington from 1982 to 1986, when he joined the East Peoria Fire Department. He became East Peoria’s fire chief in 2005, but retired in 2008, when he was hired as Washington’s first full-time fire chief and was given a three-year contract by the board. His contract was renewed by the board in 2011 for three more years.

Board President Bob Linsley, the city of Washington’s representative on the five-member panel, cited a “difference of philosophies” for the board’s June 10 decision, which was unanimous with one abstention.

“He was our first full-time fire chief,” Linsley said. “We didn’t know what to expect at the time and we are setting the process.”

Coincidentally, the City Council will have a first reading Monday of its annual agreement with the department to provide fire protection, ambulance and emergency medical services for the city. A vote on those agreements is expected at the council’s next meeting July 21. 

If approved at that meeting, the city will pay the department $600,000 for the period from May 1, 2014, to April 30, 2015.