Chicago ride-along controversy: Columnist uses opening scene of Backdraft to explain latest battle between Commissioner Hoff & Inspector General.

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Read column by Alden Loury

There is a very interesting column on Huff Post Chicago by Alden Loury the publisher of The Chicago Reporter. It is about the latest dust up between Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Robert Hoff and Inspector General Joe Ferguson. You may recall the pair previously battled over how discipline would be handled after the IG's investigation found members of the Fire Prevention Bureau had falsified mileage reimbursements. Hoff also told Ferguson to basically butt out when the IG urged a cutback on the minimum staffing of fire apparatus.

The latest disagreement is over ride-alongs. Here's how Loury describes the issue:

Investigators with Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson's office discovered that a battalion chief took an adult son along on fire emergencies and allowed him to stay overnight at a Chicago firehouse for a period of nearly two years. Ferguson recommended a 20-day suspension for the battalion chief, who "recklessly exposed the City to liability," according to the OIG's office.

But Commissioner Hoff ignored that recommendation and gave the battalion chief — whom city and fire officials wouldn't identify — a "verbal reprimand" with no time off, in the process creating more friction with Ferguson's office. (This is at least the third time in the past few months that the commissioner and Ferguson have squared off.)

CFD spokesman Larry Langford says Commissioner Hoff cited progressive discipline as his justification for the verbal reprimand, pointing to an otherwise good record for the BC.

Langford also had to tell Loury that Commissioner Hoff's childhood did not weigh heavily in the decision making on this one. Loury was talking about Commissioner Hoff, his brother and father being inspirations for the 1991 movie Backdraft. Alden Loury begins his column by describing the opening of the film where the younger brother rides along on a fire that ends up taking his father's life.

While that is a fictionalized account of the 1962 death of Commissioner Hoff's father, Loury continues with the ride-along theme by citing a quote from the Commissioner's interview with the Chicago Sun-Times last year after the death of his firefighter older brother Raymond, whom he lived with as a teenager. "I was 14. Every weekend he took me to work with him. He showed me everything."

As for the rules on CFD ride-alongs, here's more from Loury:

Langford said requests for ride alongs are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but approval is typically reserved for individuals with a legitimate interest in firefighting activity or research — such as journalists or academics. Anyone approved for a ride along must complete a waiver of liability (which apparently was not filled out in the case of the battalion chief.) Langford said the department also has a program allowing medical students to ride along in ambulances as a part of their educational process.

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