Barrington's village board Monday night was deluged by a standing-room-only crowd of firefighters and residents angered by the planned split of the village fire department and Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District at the end of the year.
Many in the crowd held yellow signs with slogans like "We Support One Barrington Fire Department" and "Public Safety Should Be Public Knowledge."
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Both the village and fire district have been making plans to end their long-running contractual relationship, under which the larger area of the district has received service from an expanded Barrington Fire Department. Trustees of the fire district, which serves a 48-square-mile area, have cited frustration with their efforts to ask the village for seven more firefighters to be paid for entirely by the district.
But Village President Karen Darch sought to explain Monday that the village is struggling with the long-term costs of a fire department staff far larger than the village itself needs.
These long-term costs are not just the salaries the district has offered to pay for more employees, but also the pensions, insurance and disability payments due these firefighters and their spouses long after they've stopped working.
Even though the village has been paying ever higher contributions to the firefighters' pension fund each year, the fund has dropped from being fully funded in 2007 to only 78.9 percent funded in 2012, Darch said.
But firefighters and their supporters expressed skepticism that the two boards couldn't work together toward a system as cost-effective for both as it would be practical for public safety.
"The best outcome is to stay together. We are one Barrington Fire Department," local union President Eric Brouilette said.
Retired firefighter/paramedic Char McLear also criticized separation plans.
"When things are secretive and don't make sense, typically politics are at play," she said. "This move will have a serious outcome to someone's well-being."
Barrington Trustee Tim Roberts said he sympathized with firefighters who could lose union benefits if transferred to the fire district, but he didn't believe the changes would hurt public safety.