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Article updated: 7/16/2013 1:54 PM

Barrington told it should lay off 20 firefighters

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In one epic evening, the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District hired former New Lenox, Ill., Fire Chief Jeff Swanson as its interim administrator Monday while village of Barrington officials heard a consultant's recommendation to reduce the village fire department by 20 firefighters when both agencies separate their services Jan. 1.

Because the 48-square-mile fire district is ending its contract for service from the Barrington Fire Department, district trustees also approved a new contract with the private firm Paramedic Services of Illinois, based in Schiller Park, to provide its firefighters next year.

The two boards' meetings Monday represented the biggest single step toward their imminent separation, which began with a letter of intent from the fire district last fall.

Despite hearing a detailed report and recommendation from consultant Bill Balling on the post-split restructuring of the Barrington Fire Department, village trustees won't approve any changes until Aug. 19.

They will actually have two options to choose between. Balling's recommended staffing level is for 18 personnel -- which, when the cost of the firefighters for the fire protection district is removed as well as the payment for them from that district, would cost the village about $80,000 more than it pays for fire service today.

But he also identified what he described as a workable option that would employ only 16 people -- laying off a total of 22 -- and cost slightly less than today's fire services.

Union firefighters, who are most immediately affected by both boards' decisions, were strongly represented at the two meetings Monday.

Barrington firefighters have protested the planned separation all along, arguing that public safety will be hurt by the loss of efficiency.

Balling said his recommended staffing, combined with existing automatic aid agreements with other departments, won't result in a drop from current service standards.

The fire district, which is seeking to expand its services, initiated the separation out of frustration that village officials denied its request for more personnel and equipment -- even at its own expense.

Village officials, who are the direct employers of all the staff used by both agencies, have said Barrington taxpayers are bearing an unfair financial risk for the pensions and potential disability payments for twice as many firefighters as the village itself needs.

Still, despite initiating the separation, fire district trustees have been loathe to give up the experience and familiarity with the area Barrington firefighters have provided them -- as well as not wanting to see any lose their jobs.

But fire district trustees have said they aren't able to immediately provide the pensions and other benefits these union firefighters have enjoyed. The trustees are considering the possibility of a tax-hike referendum in March 2014 to help provide such benefits.

District trustees have asked their new contractor to give hiring preference to the firefighters Barrington will lay off. As such, the monetary amount of the contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois has yet to be finalized.

Swanson's contract as interim administrator of the fire district is for $122,000 per year, including vehicle expenses.

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