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updated: 1/3/2014 7:10 AM

Dispute over gear as Barrington fire service splits

Barrington-area districts' split off to bad start

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  • Jeff Swanson

      Jeff Swanson

 
 

The Barrington Fire Department and Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District went their separate ways as scheduled New Year's Day -- but not without some last-minute miscommunication.

Even though the 48-square-mile fire district received 19 firefighters laid off by the village of Barrington at the stroke of midnight, those firefighters weren't allowed to bring their individually fitted safety gear with them.

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This forced the fire district to borrow gear from the Fox River Grove Fire Protection District a few days before the split, and to begin making arrangements to lease gear from elsewhere during the coming months.

Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said the issue arose from the fact that the district didn't hire the laid-off firefighters directly, but through the private contractor Paramedic Services of Illinois.

"It is taxpayer property and we can't just give it to someone else without the proper legal mechanism to do so," Lawler said.

He added that this issue was addressed in a conversation with fire district officials in early December and he didn't understand how they could have overlooked it.

Barrington Countryside board President Tom Rowan said the conversation Lawler referred to is one only the village of Barrington seems to recall.

Because the fire district and village of Barrington co-owned all the equipment they shared during their decades-long contractual relationship, it was meant to be divided evenly at the end as all the vehicles were, Rowan said.

Rowan darkly joked that he was surprised Barrington didn't at least give the district all the left boots and keep all the right boots.

Barrington Countryside Fire Chief Jeff Swanson said that while rules should be followed, they should never get in the way of safety. While the legalistic separation of the gear could have been worked out over time, the firefighters needed to be using it on New Year's Day, he said.

Barrington Countryside employs a total of 34 firefighters through Paramedic Services of Illinois. Only the 19 laid off from the Barrington Fire Department were affected by the dispute over the equipment.

Swanson said the specially fitted equipment newly ordered for these employees isn't expected to arrive until the spring. They will be using leased equipment in the meantime.

Apart from this issue, both agencies reported that they've been fulfilling all their operational responsibilities since the split. The Barrington Fire Department's jurisdiction narrowed from covering the district as well to just the village's five square miles.

"It's behind us now," Lawler said. "Our fire staff is providing service as they always do."

The Barrington Countryside Fire District responded to four calls during its first day and a half, including two medical calls and a traffic accident, Swanson said.

Rowan said morale is high among the fire district's new staff, evidenced by their cleaning all their equipment anew just after receiving it from the village of Barrington after midnight Wednesday morning.

"The guys are really enthusiastic," Rowan said. "There's a great attitude around the fire house. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the door."

Barrington Countryside covers parts of Barrington Hills, Lake Barrington, South Barrington, Inverness and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

The fire district's long-running contract for service from Barrington ended on New Year's Day after district trustees became frustrated that their requests for additional staff and equipment were regularly denied by Barrington.

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