Nearly four years after what some residents saw as the sudden closing of a Streamwood firehouse, officials have quietly reopened the station thanks to a grant that put more firefighters on the job.
The Park Boulevard station began operating again this week. At least three firefighter-paramedics are now assigned there for each 24-hour shift.
Fire Chief Chris Clark said Friday he expects the reopening to reduce the time it takes for crews to respond to emergencies, especially along Lake Street where industrial developments have popped up on what was vacant land in recent years.
Facilities like a 24-hour food processing plant have contributed to a rise in calls for service on the village's south side, Clark said.
In December 2012, Streamwood won a $627,000 federal grant to hire three firefighters. Only one other department in the state received the funding administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grant enabled the department to bring its ranks up to 50 firefighting personnel.
Streamwood weathered the economic slump by reducing the force to 47 firefighting positions through attrition. The department also eliminated the position of a full-time fire inspector who retired and reassigned those duties to other staffers. And in April 2010, the department shuttered the Park Boulevard station, sparking a protest and fears of an increase in response times. But officials defended the move, arguing that the closing improved operations.
Shutting down Station No. 1 allowed the department to reassign firefighters to Streamwood's other two firehouses and introduce three-person crews staffing each engine. Federal regulations had previously hampered Streamwood's two-person crews, who had to wait for backup to enter a burning structure.
"At that time, we did not have the level of service we're providing today," Clark said.
Matt Dobson, who spearheaded the public outcry, wanted more of a heads-up to neighborhoods affected by the change. Village officials, though, say they reviewed the closing in a budget meeting.
Dobson learned the station had reopened only when he drove by and saw the American flag flying outside the entrance. Up until Monday, the department used the station for training and storage of equipment.
"It's very rough communicating," said Dobson, the son of a retired Streamwood firefighter.
But he lauded the upgrades that have been made to the 1970s-era building.
"I'm just happy it's open right now," he said.
With the grant, provided by the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, the department can now run three-person crews in all of the stations.
It took more than a year to reopen the Park Boulevard firehouse after the financing arrived because of the time needed to recruit and train the new hires, as well as to analyze how Streamwood deploys its resources, Clark said.
"We constantly monitor our service levels," said Clark, who took the department's top post in 2011.
Streamwood must keep the three firefighter-paramedics on the job for two years. With a rebounding local economy, the chief expects the department to retain them even longer.
"We are very confident that we will be able to maintain those positions through our current revenue streams," he said.