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Oak Forest Fire Department Undergoes Reorganization

The City of Oak Forest details administrative changes and decisions in light of charges against former Deputy Chief Charles Sopko.

In recent weeks, the Oak Forest Fire Department has undertaken several managerial changes to facilitate continued operational effectiveness as a result of former Fire Chief Terry Lipinski’s retirement and the ongoing legal issues facing former Deputy Fire Chief Charles Sopko.

“This has been a challenging time for the city and the fire department,” said Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, “but, we believe we are heading in the right direction by taking the necessary steps to protect the citizens of Oak Forest and to create a more cohesive fire department.”

On May 13, the City Council acted to formally remove Sopko from his appointed position of deputy chief and returned him to his sworn position of lieutenant. In order to keep things running smoothly, the City Council then appointed 13-year veteran Lieutenant David Griffin as deputy fire chief at its May 27 meeting.

On June 10, after Lipinski announced his retirement, Mayor Kuspa appointed Griffin as fire chief and 22-year veteran Lieutenant John Janozik as deputy fire chief, effective June 28. The City Council unanimously approved both appointments agreeing with Kuspa’s assessment that both men “have the experience, knowledge and temperament to make our excellent fire department even better.”

Sopko is currently charged with certain offenses. He has not been found guilty of any charges and the employment relationship of a firefighter with the city is not automatically terminated by allegations of misconduct brought by the state's attorney. The City Council has reviewed its options and, following consultation with the city attorney, determined that the best course of action that limits the city's future liability exposure was to place Sopko on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of his current court proceedings.

“Under our system of justice, a person is innocent until proven guilty and no definitive decision has been made yet so our primary responsibility is to the residents of Oak Forest,” Mayor Kuspa said. “It is with this in mind that the City Council and I have sought to minimize any liabilities inherent in such a situation and make decisions based upon fairness, operational requirements and legal advice.”

In light of Griffin and Janozik’s promotions, firefighters Randy Ulaskas and Gary Kasper were promoted to the rank of lieutenant at the July 8 City Council meeting. Ulaskas is a 26-year veteran of the department while Kasper has been with the department for 13 years. 

—Submitted by the City of Oak Forest

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