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updated: 12/19/2011 9:41 PM

Barrington, fire district fight over staffing

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The village of Barrington has denied a request by the Barrington Fire Protection District for the hiring of seven additional firefighter/paramedics to help serve the district's larger area surrounding the village.

So fire district trustees Monday came up with a backup suggestion that the village move one person per shift from the fire station in Barrington to the one in Barrington Hills.

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"Maybe if the village had one fewer person here (in Barrington), they might see our issue more clearly," fire district Trustee Tom Long said.

The fire protection district is a separate taxing body serving a 46-square-mile area outside of Barrington. But the district has historically contracted the services of the Barrington Fire Department -- inflated to serve the larger area.

The village has recently begun pursuing ideas to find cost savings in its fire protection services, so the fire district's request could hardly have come at a worse time.

The district bases its desire for the seven more firefighters on a consultant's study, commissioned from the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association.

But Barrington officials have pointed out what they consider to be some factual errors in the study's basic assumptions. The village says the fire district has a current population of 24,710 spread over 46 square miles, while the consultant's study believes there are more than 40,000 people living in 54 square miles.

Nevertheless, district officials say they have full confidence in the study -- believing its findings to have more weight than the word of Barrington's own fire chief.

"I don't know if adding more people in and of itself solves all of our problems," Barrington Fire Chief James Arie told fire district trustees Monday night. "I don't know if the magic number is seven."

But fire district trustees believe so much in the study they say they're willing to pay the approximately $100,000 per person in salary and benefits for the new employees at the district's own expense.

They further believe that they have the right to determine their own appropriate staffing levels as they pay 62 percent of the total cost of the Barrington Fire Department.

But Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said that as the employer, the village is ultimately responsible for the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the department.

Furthermore, having been Barrington police chief when Inverness ended its contract for police service from Barrington, Lawler said there is a painful process in having to downsize a department that's previously been built up.

The village wants to avoid going through that situation again, Lawler said.

The fire district's request for the transfer of one person per shift from the Barrington to the Barrington Hills fire stations is expected to be formally passed on to the village board next month.

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