Fittest loser
Article updated: 8/20/2013 1:58 PM

Barrington fire department to expand despite 20 layoffs

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Though ending its long contract with the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District, the Barrington village board Monday voted in favor of a slight increase to its own fire services for a cost of about $80,000 more per year.

The action meant that the village followed consultant Bill Balling's recommendation to lay off only 20 of the firefighters used by the surrounding fire district rather than going with the backup plan of 22 to save a little money.

From Jan. 1, Barrington will employ 18 fire personnel -- 16 firefighters and two command officers.

But Trustee Robert Windon suggested immediate discussions with the fire district to perhaps make adaptations on both sides within a couple of weeks.

While both the village and 48-square-mile fire district have now expressed interest in increasing their individual staffing levels, union firefighters and their supporters continue to criticize the loss of coordination they say will come if the two jurisdictions are no longer served by one unified fire department. Under the decades-old contract, the two jurisdictions could respond to each other's calls far better than through any mutual-aid agreement, union members say.

"You can hide behind your consultant's report, but you haven't spoken to us," Barrington fire Lt. Bruce Peterson told the board. "I think you've been sold a load of goods here. I'm telling you from the bottom of my heart, we can't do the job -- five people on duty can't do the job."

But trustees of both local governments have spent much of the past year saying the old contract no longer served either of them well.

Fire district trustees said they've become frustrated by their requests for more personnel and equipment being denied -- even when they offered to pay the full cost.

And village officials said the financial risks to Barrington taxpayers to employ twice as many firefighters as the village needs could no longer be justified -- especially with the fire district seeking to expand. Village leaders particularly cite the lifelong disability liability Barrington alone bears as the legal employer of all the department's firefighters.

Last month, the fire district approved a contract with Schiller Park-based Paramedic Services of Illinois to provide its staff.

Though the fire district is trying to work out a way of hiring as many of Barrington's laid-off firefighters as possible, such hires would be without a pension plan and earn a potentially lower salary.

The fire district also hired former New Lenox Fire Chief Jeff Swanson to lead it to and beyond the Jan. 1 termination of its contract with the village.

Fire district trustees are still weighing a proposed automatic-aid agreement with the village, saying their decision would be based on Barrington's own staffing levels.

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