In 1957, the residents of a newly formed and rapidly growing area south of Chicago realized the need for fire protection. The new area, called Country Club Hills was not yet incorporated as a city. The community mounted an effort to form a volunteer fire department and thus began the birth of The Country Club Hills Fire Protection District. The city was incorporated in 1958, but the fire protection district remained a separate entity.
In 1972, the first firefighters were trained to the level of Emergency Medical Technician. The following year, six firefighters were trained to the level of paramedic. The Country Club Hills Fire Protection District had the first operating advanced life support unit in the South Suburbs. In fact this was the first paramedic unit south of O’Hare Airport.
Realizing the need for an immediate response to fires and emergency medical calls, The Fire District Trustees, on January 1, 1975, hired the first fulltime, paid members of the fire department.
At this time, and for years to come, these members were more or less treated as a “necessary evil” and the command structure was overwhelmingly a volunteer dominated one.
In 1979, faced with low pay, benefits and a high turnover rate, the fulltime firefighters joined the International Association of Fire Fighters and Local 2720 received its charter. During these bleak years, there were no collective bargaining rights for public safety employees in Illinois. The Board of Trustees refused to recognize the newly formed local. The original Union leadership faced intense scrutiny and the local did not survive. The only bright spot was that the Fire District Board realized they needed to do more for their employees and instituted a “work agreement” between the board and the firefighters. Although it was not a binding contract, it was an opportunity for the two sides to sit across the table from one another and discuss the issues that were important to both sides.
In 1986, collective bargaining rights were finally granted to Illinois firefighters. The Country Club Hills firefighters could not take advantage of this new empowerment. Being a fire district, the board did not have to bargain with its firefighters due to a provision in the collective bargaining law that set a minimum of 24 fulltime employees to be entitled to this right. The members asked the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois for a possibility of “historical recognition” due to the fact that there was a written work agreement between the Board and the Fire fighters. The AFFI did not have good news for the fire fighters. The Board did not have to recognize or bargain with a local union. Even when the minimum staffing requirement was lowered to 12 fulltime employees to be recognized, the Country Club Hills firefighters were still 3 employees short.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a tremendous increase in the number of emergency calls throughout Country Club Hills. The community was growing and the fire district tried to keep pace. The district was dependent completely on property tax revenues. The board and the firefighters worked together to try and maintain the highest level of service for the community. Tax caps and stagnant commercial development made running a fire department harder and harder. The firefighters went to the Board with a request once again to be recognized as an IAFF affiliate. The Board was advised not to recognize a local union. The board however did allow the firefighters to freely meet with the Union and on May 1st 2000 The Country Club Hills Firefighters Union was chartered as Local 4044. Although the new union had no collective bargaining in place, the foundation was in place for the biggest challenge in the department’s history.
Ironically, as the new union was formed, the board of trustees made a request to the leadership of Country Club Hills. Would they support the move to dissolve the district and take over the operations of the fire department? The city agreed to the take over plan and on September 18th 2000. A Cook County judge granted the dissolution request and the firefighters were now city employees. It was not a particularly easy transition. The firefighters, who had served the citizens even before the city was founded, suddenly had to defend themselves with public charges of being part of a “bankrupt organization” and were referred to as “step children”. The Firefighters Union asked for voluntary recognition. The city denied the request. A Labor Board vote was held and the IAFF was chosen to represent the firefighters with a unanimous vote. The city had delayed the vote while trying to keep Lieutenants out of the bargaining unit. The city’s delay tactic had pushed the vote back but the Lieutenants were in the bargaining unit. The long process of securing a contract had finally begun. There were some bright spots. By January 2002, 4 new firefighters were hired. Later in the year another 2 were hired. There were also some low points, namely when certain members of the City Council refused to approve the firefighters payroll on more then one occasion. Fortunately, with State laws on the firefighters side and support from the executive branch of city government along with cool heads in the City Council the firefighters never missed a paycheck. Local 4044 made a request to the IAFF asking for the original local number to be reinstated. The IAFF Executive Board granted this request and Local 2720 was in business. After 25 months of hard-fought, but respectful negotiations, Local 2720 had its first contract. We continue to enjoy a good working relationship with the city of Country Club Hills leadership. There has been tremendous growth in the city. There are now 15 career platoon personnel and a second firehouse opened in November of 2009. The firefighters and paramedics of Local 2720 look forward to serving the citizens of Country Club Hills and meeting the needs of our rapidly changing city. UPDATE. We are now down to 13 career firefighters and have been without a contract since 2011. The firefighters have not had a raise since 2010 and are heading to arbitration. The fire department is far down on the priority list for all the elected officials of the city.