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updated: 11/8/2012 11:49 PM

Antioch Rescue Squad says it's making 'positive changes' to address problems

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The Antioch Rescue Squad is creating a new employee handbook and forcing members to wear ID cards when on call and undergo harassment training, officials announced this week.

The new initiatives are part of several improvements taking place at the troubled rescue squad under new Chief Brian DeKind, said Patrick Goodness, owner of the Goodness Company, who is handling public relations for the group.

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While his company has had a long relationship with the ARS, Goodness said, DeKind has asked the company to be more proactive instead of reactive in getting information out to residents.

"Past ARS leadership handled public relations issues in a 'reactive' manner," Goodness said via email Thursday. "Current ARS leadership sees the positive benefits of a more proactive communications approach with the community."

The first step in open communication took place this week when the Goodness Company issued a news release for the rescue squad saying "positive changes are under way."

The news release was an update of sorts on the ARS status since DeKind took over for former Chief Wayne Sobczak, who retired earlier this month.

That release said a members-only website will be created to enhance communication between squad members, and identification cards are being printed for squad members to wear when not in uniform while on rescue calls.

The release also adds the squad has contracted with a consulting firm to provide a handbook that will include policies addressing discipline and drug and alcohol use. The consulting firm will work with the squad to provide ethics and harassment training to all members.

"We understand that we have hurdles to jump on our path to restoring the reputation of our squad," DeKind said in the release. "As we face the challenge head on, it is important to remember that our dedicated volunteers are members of this community too."

The rescue squad has been working to rectify problems and clean up its image after six months of lawsuits, violations and arrests.

The trouble began in May when a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three female squad members came to light. Two of the women have since settled with the ARS for $155,000.

In August, the Illinois Department of Public Health released an informal letter citing various misconduct, including members arriving for shifts shortly after consuming alcohol and agitating patients to justify use of restraining devices.

Since the informal letter was received, the rescue squad has sent a plan of correction to the state and is working toward addressing those issues. But, the initial informal findings led the IDPH to fine the rescue squad $15,000 for violations of the Emergency Medical Services Act.

In September, Antioch police announced that rescue squad Treasurer John Edgell had been charged with theft for allegedly stealing more than $12,000 from the squad.

Edgell, who also served as an Antioch Township trustee before resigning in August, remains free after posting 10 percent of his $2,000 bond.

This week's news release said the rescue squad uncovered the $12,000 theft, brought it to police and "continues to cooperate fully with police."

Police Chief Craig Somerville said the theft is under investigation and he would not comment.

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