The Mount Prospect Fire Department is taking extraordinary measures to keep its response times low since budget cuts have eliminated six full-time firefighter jobs since 2010, Chief John Malcolm says, but both he and the village board are concerned about the department going forward.
Most alarming, trustees indicated, is the department's policy of running the tower ladder on every call so as not to have to go back to the station to get it.
In 2010, as a result of the 10 percent villagewide reductions, the fire department saw its number of full-time sworn firefighters decrease from 72 to 66.
Malcolm said he first tried to adjust by relying more on a "jump" company.
"We had three people, a lieutenant and two firefighters, who would jump on the engine or the tower ladder, depending on the nature of the call," Malcolm said. "So we were basically staffing two vehicles with three people."
One of the consequences, in terms of response time, was seen in July 2011, when the fire department faced a fire at a three-story, 39-unit apartment building that had been hit by lightning. The fire grew to the point where flames were going through the roof. Meanwhile, the tower ladder was sitting at the station unstaffed.
"So I had no ladder truck at three o'clock in the morning," he said, adding that he could get no mutual aid at the time either.
"So the crew had to leave there, drive all the way back to the station, jump off that rig, jump onto the tower ladder and respond," he said.
Eventually, Malcolm said, he decided they would just run Tower 13 on all calls -- not only structure fires, but ambulance calls, car fires and even Dumpster fires.
Tower 13 has maximum flexibility. It is known as a "quint," containing an aerial ladder, ground ladders, a hose, a pump and water.
The question now is whether its durability will equal its flexibility.
Malcolm said the tower truck tripled its responses since the department retired the engine, responding to 1,894 calls in 2012. Malcolm said the department received 5,777 calls in 2012.
Trustees at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting expressed particular concern about the needs of the fire department.
Trustee Michael Zadel was concerned about the wear and tear on the tower unit.
"I know that there is a replacement schedule for that tower unit as well, and I know that it's probably the single most expensive piece of rolling stock that the village has," he said.
Trustee Steven Polit noted that the village runs the risk that the tower truck may be needed when it is on an ambulance call.
Trustee A. John Korn added he is concerned about the mutual aid numbers.
In 2011, Mount Prospect received got mutual aid on 314 calls and gave mutual aid on 142 calls. In 2012, it was 300 to 235. So far in 2013 the numbers are 185 calls given, 218 received and in 2014, it is projected Mount Prospect will receive 338 mutual aid calls, as opposed to giving 150 calls.
Malcolm said those numbers could have been even higher, "because I reduced the number of vehicles going out on fire alarms and on structure fires," he said. "We couldn't ask our neighbors to continue to send ... extra vehicles."
For the 2014 budget, Malcolm is requesting more than $12.9 million, a more than 2 percent increase. The department's request includes the replacement of two vehicles. Malcolm added the department is deferring the replacement of five vehicles.