Chicago mayor appoints new emergency chief role
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Post will oversee planning for disaster, terror strike
Chicago Sun Times (Illinois)
If the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proved one thing to Mayor Daley, it's that "the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing."
The mayor wants to avoid that confusion if disaster strikes Chicago. On Thursday, Daley created a new job — chief emergency officer — and filled it with Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter.
Trotter will oversee long-range planning for a disaster or terrorist attack and coordinate the emergency activities of the police and fire departments and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Replacing Trotter as fire commissioner is Ray Orozco Jr., whose father served as fire commissioner during the first seven years of Daley's tenure.
"Next to my family, the Chicago Fire Department is the passion in my life," Orozco said.
Thursday's shuffle will allow the mayor to add a Hispanic to a scandal-overhauled Cabinet that has only four Hispanics left. And it paves the way for Trotter to retire, collect his lucrative Fire Department pension and add his yet-to-be-negotiated salary as emergency chief.
Former Mayor Jane M. Byrne once appointed a public safety chief as a way to kick her police superintendent upstairs. It was another level of bureaucracy that Chicago didn't need.
That does not appear to be the motive in Trotter's case. He was determined to retire, and Daley was equally determined to keep him — even if it meant creating a new job once envisioned for the chief of OEMC.
Bureaucratic bungling spelled disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The threat of a bird flu pandemic looms large and "worries" the mayor. Daley is firmly convinced that he needs one person based in the mayor's office to do disaster planning and call the shots at disaster scenes.
"This is not [another layer of] bureaucracy. It's one person. . . In any emergency, someone has to be responsible in the preparation, the planning and execution," the mayor said.
"Looking at Katrina . . . you have to reassess your public safety strategy, and that's what we're doing here. . . . You have to have a coordinated effort out of the mayor's office. . . . Otherwise it gets dissected into different departments and sub-departments and it doesn't work."
Trotter said he would start with the 125 recommendations in the federal report on mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina.
"When you look at day-to-day emergencies, these departments are going to function as they normally function. But the strategic planning of large-scale events and things that have the potential to occur -- that's where I would be helpful," he said.
Orozco is a 26-year veteran firefighter who coordinated operations at the December 2004 LaSalle Bank fire.
That fire showcased the changes in training and high-rise firefighting that Trotter made in response to mistakes at an October 2003 Loop high-rise fire where six people died after being trapped in stairwells that locked behind them.
Still, the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 is not sorry to see him go.
Union President John Chwarzynski accused Trotter of allowing payroll problems to fester, establishing a pass-fail entrance exam over union opposition and ignoring Local 2's demand for protective clothing known as "bunker gear" until now, when he's on his way out the door.
BLACK ALDERMAN CONCERNED
"His door wasn't open. He wasn't accessible to us. . . . We weren't included. We were completely disenfranchised," Chwarzynski said.
Black aldermen were equally concerned about the departure of Chicago's first African-American fire commissioner -- and what it means to the slow march toward diversity in a Fire Department with a history of discrimination.
"There's no pressure. I'm committed to that," Orozco said.
Still, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) warned, "It will be business as usual. . . . Whatever changes he made already, they'll be derailed."