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Former Chicago firefighter fined $2,000 for violating city’s ethics ordinance

Board of Ethics Chairman William Conlon said the fine would have been higher if not for the extenuating circumstances: “This guy only did it at the request of the Chicago Fire Department and only did it for the benefit of the city. While wrong, that mitigated the fine in our mind.”

The shoulder patch on a Chicago Fire Department uniform.
Thomas Wagner was a Chicago firefighter when he helped draft bid documents for a contract that eventually went to Pittsburg-based Simulation Live Training Solutions. Wagner accepted a job with that company.
Sun-Times file

A former Chicago firefighter has been slapped with a $2,000 fine for helping to draft bid documents for a $7.36 million fire training contract while negotiating a job with the company subsequently awarded the contract, then returning to work on the training in violation of the revolving-door provision.

Chicago Board of Ethics Chairman William Conlon said the fine would have been higher if not for the extenuating circumstances.

The firefighter had a particular expertise in the training being offered by Simulation Live Training Solutions when the Chicago Fire Department periodically summoned him back to O’Hare Airport to help train the firefighters with whom he once worked after leaving CFD to work for the Pittsburgh-based company.

On August 2, 2017, Simulation Live Training Solutions signed an $7.36 million contract that calls for “large frame aircraft fire training simulator design, build and maintenance for O’Hare Airport,” city records show.

Simulators are large training devices built to simulate burning aircraft. They allow firefighters to practice their rescue techniques in the event of an airliner crash.

A mock up of an airplane is set on fire as part of a mock disaster drill at O’Hare Airport in 1999.
A mock up of an airplane is set on fire as part of a mock disaster drill at O’Hare Airport in 1999.
Sun-Times file

According to Conlon, the firefighter made two mistakes. He was “negotiating future employment, salary and compensation with a company he knew intended to bid on” a contract he continued to work on during those employment negotiations.

Then, after joining Simulation Live Training Solutions, the firefighter violated the “revolving door” provision of the city’s ethics code that prohibits a former city employee with “contract responsibility” from working on that contract for one year after leaving the city, Conlon said.

“The alternative was for him to say `no’ to the Chicago Fire Department. ‘I’m not gonna help you on how to deal with one of these tragedies, should they occur,’” Conlon said Tuesday.

“Our thinking was, ‘Are we gonna deny the Chicago Fire Department the right to get help from a guy who knows this stuff and contributes to life saving training?’ While he was prohibited from doing so, we understand the benefit to the city that came from that. Usually it’s just people coming back lining their pockets and doing it on their own. This guy only did it at the request of the Chicago Fire Department and only did it for the benefit of the city. While wrong, that mitigated the fine in our mind.”

Conlon noted that, during his tenure as chairman, the Board of Ethics has “kind of focused on city employees.”

“The board thinks we ought to focus on the people who make the payment. The people who are dealing with city employees — who pay the city employees off,” Conlon said Tuesday.

Neither the firefighter nor officials at Simulation Live Training Solutions could be reached for comment on the fine or on Conlon’s warning.

CFD spokesman Larry Langford refused to comment on the fine, referring all questions to the Board of Ethics.

According to Conlon, the firefighter was a “field training specialist” when he retired from CFD to accept the position with Simulation Live Training Solutions that he negotiated while working for the city and assigned to O’Hare.