Change in Milan fire station leadership shines light on failed river rescue

MILAN, Illinois -- A change in leadership is shining light on past issues that could have been the difference between life or death.

This summer's tragedy on the Rock River near the steel dam in Milan is still playing out at the Blackhawk Fire Protection District.

The volunteer fire department's board of trustees decided to hire a new fire chief. The board says former chief Jerry Mader wanted to retire.

"I believe he retired. I can tell you he resigned, so we took it as a retirement," Board of Trustees President Larry Coyne said.

Mader told News 8 he did not retire. He said he was forced out because the board didn't like the way the river rescue last June was handled.

Five-year-old Maci Jade Chavez fell out of a boat when it went over the steel dam. Crews tried to save her but she drowned.

Mader blamed the failed river rescue on the board of trustees, saying they didn't provide his department with proper equipment to rescue Maci.

On Monday, the trustees moved to replace Mader with Doug Dubree, a 32-year veteran of the Rock Island Fire Department.

Chief Dubree said the failed river rescue is top of his mind.

"We're tasked with any rescues on the (Rock) river. My goal is to get more training on swift water rescues in cases of incidents at the dam," Chief Dubree said.

The new chief will face plenty of volunteer firefighters still loyal to the old one. The first thing he did after being appointed was meet with them privately.

"I've talked with the guys. I'm here for them," Chief Dubree said.

He hopes that could put out any future fires within his own department.