With the announcement of River Forest Fire Chief Kurt Bohlmann’s planned retirement, village officials voted, July 12, to hire a recruiting firm to fill not only that vacancy but also the vacant village administrator position.
Eric Palm resigned in February after 10 years as River Forest village administrator, leaving to accept a similar position in Hoffman Estates.
Bohlmann, who will continue in his position until September, has been in that post since 2017, when he moved up from deputy chief to replace Jim Eggert.
“After 31 years, it’s time to go,” he said. “It’s a young man’s game.”
Bohlmann, who has spent his entire career in River Forest, noted, “It’s the only test I ever took.”
He was promoted to lieutenant in 2011 and to deputy chief in 2016. The village board eliminated the deputy chief position after Bohlmann became chief. He has seen many changes in firefighting since he started.
“We’re jacks of all trades but they keep adding trades,” he said. Because “it’s impossible to be trained in everything,” he said, firefighters today specialize in certain areas, such as emergencies involving hazardous materials.
Addressing the many issues that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is just one of Bohlmann’s accomplishments. Others include starting the paramedic program in River Forest in 1998. There were no paramedics when he started; now all 20 firefighters in River Forest are paramedics.
He also helped purchase the department’s first EMS engine in the mid-2000s; received a $100,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to upgrade the department’s radios; replaced the 30-year-old alerting system with a state-of-the-art system; and received an innovation award from Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency, an insurance cooperative, for a collision avoidance app to prevent ladder trucks from colliding with viaducts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bohlmann helped organize a vaccine distribution effort that led to 1,400 people receiving vaccinations at four sites with the assistance of officials from Jewel.
Although he admitted the effort was stressful, he credited River Forest’s participation in TripCom Medical Reserve Corps with Elmwood Park and Forest Park, which provided a framework for the effort. TripCom, which stands for triple community, is made up of medical and non-medical volunteers whose primary responsibility is to respond to a public health emergency or any other emergency that would put citizens at risk.
Not willing to coast into retirement, Bohlmann said he is involved in upgrading the department’s management system and updating the village’s building codes.
“We’re way behind,” he said, noting that current codes date to 2003.
“I’m going to miss the guys,” he said. “It’s a great town. I’ve had a good career and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Village President Cathy Adduci said Bohlmann informed village officials in 2020 that he planned to retire in 2021.
“He’s a really great guy,” she said. “He’s well-respected not only in the village but also in the fire community. He has a great reputation and he’s developed a great organization.”
The village board unanimously approved hiring GovHR to conduct the two searches.
Based in Northbrook, GovHR is a public management consulting firm serving local government clients and other public-sector entities across the country. The firm has been used by River Forest previously, most recently to fill the village finance director position, and is “very reputable,” according to Adduci.
The two searches will cost the village $42,500, $22,500 for the fire chief search and $20,000 for the village administrator search.
According to GovHR, such searches usually take 14 weeks but the administrator search might take less time because the village has already started recruiting through the West Central Municipal Conference, an association of municipalities. Bohlmann’s resignation is likely to occur before his successor is chosen but Lisa Scheiner, acting village administrator, said an interim chief will be chosen.
Adduci said the village is using a recruiting firm to “cast the widest net,” noting internal candidates will be considered for both positions. She said Palm’s resignation coming so close to the April 6 election was a factor in delaying the process of hiring his successor.
Scheiner, who was assistant village administrator under Palm, has been serving as acting village administrator since February. Adduci said Scheiner will be considered for the position, noting, “Lisa has been doing a phenomenal job.”