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updated: 12/6/2012 6:01 AM

Batavia disaster agency could come under fire department control

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Batavia's Emergency Services and Disaster Agency should be supervised by the fire chief, a city council committee recommended this week.

It will go to the council for a vote as early as January.

Current ESDA director Jeff Glaser opposes the plan. He has led the agency, as a part-time employee, for 35 years. The rest of ESDA's members are volunteers.

Glaser disagreed with City Administrator Bill McGrath, who spoke Tuesday on why the change should take place. Mayor Jeff Schielke had suggested the change nearly a year ago.

"We just aren't the same town we used to be," McGrath said, noting the increase in population, the increased expertise of the fire department and a trend for the fire department to handle fewer actual fires. McGrath also said the mayor doesn't have "the time or expertise" like a professional worker to supervise ESDA. Glaser is appointed by and reports to the mayor. The ESDA director should be supervised daily; follow city policy on fiscal matters, inventory of equipment and other things; and be subject to termination if the job isn't being done well, McGrath said.

"I don't even know where to start. I still think it is a bad idea," Glaser said. He said he hasn't overspent his budget, but that he "doesn't get a lot of emails on operational controls" from city administrators. He said he is not invited to meetings of department heads. "So some of the controls are from my ignorance from not being told from people above me."

McGrath's memo to the committee said that the fire chief was "frustrated" in trying to get information from ESDA this year. "I don't know what that would be. We sat down many times and discussed things courteously," Glaser said.

As for being held accountable for the job, Glaser said: "I'm a paid person. Threaten to fire me. That's fine."

"I think I deserve better. I really truly do."

Schielke believes the change would make it more likely the Illinois Emergency Management Agency would accredit ESDA. With state accreditation, Batavia would be eligible for grants from the federal Homeland Security Department and could buy new equipment. Two of ESDA's vehicles are 60-some-year-old Army trucks. The last new vehicle ESDA got from the city was a Jeep Cherokee in 1995 that it still uses.

Under the proposal, the fire chief would be the ESDA coordinator. An ESDA manager would report to him. ESDA volunteers would report to the ESDA manager. It would be up to the city council whether the ESDA manager would be a paid employee, McGrath said. The new 2013 budget doesn't include any money for a paid ESDA worker; in the past, it allocated $10,000. The 2013 budget for ESDA is $29,183, which includes $17,000 to install a tornado siren near Louise White Elementary School.

"The whole process should be upgraded, and this is a good way to do it," committee chairman Jim Volk said.

Fire Chief Randall Deicke said it would be like building ESDA from scratch, as he would meet with Glaser and the volunteers to discuss goals, policies and procedures, then determine how many people and what type of equipment is needed.

ESDA operates and maintains the city's outdoor warning weather sirens. It assists with scene control, such as at fires, traffic accidents and large public gatherings such as the July 4 fireworks show. It has lighting rigs to illuminate rescues, three boats for water and ice rescues, and an ambulance. One of the Army trucks has been outfitted to fight grass fires. It maintains the city's disaster supplies, and would supervise the city hall shelter during a disaster.

Aldermen Janet Jungels and Eldon Frydendall voted "no" on the recommendation.

"I just don't want to lose all the spirit of volunteerism we have in the organization," Jungels said.

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