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updated: 10/8/2010 10:22 AM

Lombard Fire Department considers leadership changes, service fees

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The Lombard Fire Department is soon to have a new chief, but more than just leadership changes may be around the bend.

Two candidates remain for the position now held by interim Chief William Balling, Lombard Village Manager Dave Hulseberg said, and the new top firefighter is expected to be announced Tuesday.

That change in leadership also may spark changes in how the department operates as it looks to cut costs without cutting core public safety services, Balling said.

"We're going to continue to monitor our costs, he said. "We want to maintain our core services and do so more efficiently.

Even before hiring a new chief, the village board on Thursday eliminated the position of administrative battalion chief. The post had been vacant since Feb. 1, 2009.

The village board also discussed, but rejected, a proposal to charge a fee to people who repeatedly call 911 for help moving about their homes or into their vehicles, a service the fire department calls "invalid assists.

Those who call for such assists are often senior citizens or people with diseases such as muscular sclerosis or muscular dystrophy, which can make mobility difficult, Lt. Paul Dirienzo said. The calls require physical exertion by first responders, but usually do not result in transportation to a hospital.

Still, such assists create a risk for paramedics who respond, Balling said.

"This (proposal) is really not a revenue item as much as it is a risk-management strategy, he said.

Invalid assists made up about 5.5 percent of all calls to the fire department since January 2008, according to department statistics. Four residents phoned in the vast majority of those calls, Dirienzo said.

Under the proposed fee structure, residents would be charged $100 for each invalid assist beginning with the sixth in a year.

"It didn't seem like the reward was great enough, Trustee Dana Moreau said. "Historically there isn't much to prove that risk (to the paramedics).

Lombard trustees split 3-3 on whether to keep considering the fees. Village President William Mueller's vote against the fees broke the tie.

Although no new fees for invalid assists will be added now, Balling said those types of services auxiliary to extinguishing fires and transporting people with serious or life-threatening injuries will be the services fire departments across the suburbs look to streamline in order to save money.

"It pushes down the cost without cutting the core away, Balling said. "But these are agonizing decisions.