The Antioch Rescue Squad faces an uncertain future after the First Fire Protection District of Antioch announced it will not renew its emergency management service contract with the volunteer organization in May, cutting ties with the squad after 75 years.
The decision announced Tuesday night by the three-member fire district governing board means the troubled rescue squad will no longer provide assistance in Antioch Township on emergency rescue calls or in transporting patients to area hospitals.
The ARS now faces the prospect of having to shift its focus away from emergency medical services or go out of business.
"I'm personally disappointed," ARS Chief Brian DeKind said Wednesday. "It means, after 75 years of service, the squad will not be providing emergency ambulance care in Antioch."
In its letter to the ARS governing board, officials from the First Fire Protection District of Antioch said "the time has come for the district to look at options to provide EMS service other than our longtime partnership with ARS."
It said the district will utilize the Antioch Fire Department, the emergency service provider for the village of Antioch, when the current contract expires May 9.
Antioch Rescue Squad members are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss ways it can continue to serve the community "through programs such as home health care and wellness checks," DeKind said in a news release.
"Our community as a whole is better having benefitted from the tireless commitment to service and personal sacrifices of those who have served with the Squad since its inception," he said in the release.
DeKind added that, until last year, the volunteer-based ARS was the sole emergency service provider in Antioch and Antioch Township since 1940.
He stressed that ARS operated without placing a tax burden on the public, instead raising operating funds from donations and memorials. It purchased its own equipment, vehicles and supplies at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
However, trouble started for the ARS in 2012 when a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed by three former members against several rescue squad colleagues and high-ranking rescue squad officials.
That lawsuit led to an Illinois Department of Public Health investigation that revealed some rescue squad members were mistreating patients, allowing employees to begin shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol, and slipping medications into the food and drinks of fellow squad members. The state later fined ARS and asked for operational changes.
Also, former Antioch Rescue Squad treasurer John Edgell was charged with theft of more than $10,000 after it was determined he had been taking cash from the squad. He pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor count of theft and was forced to pay back $25,000.
The mounting problems pushed former chief Wayne Sobczak to retire and led to former rescue squad President Steve Smouse to step down. DeKind replaced Sobczak and was tasked with rebuilding the squad's tarnished image.
Village officials and the ARS cut ties in May 2013, resulting in the Antioch Fire Department handling emergency medical calls in the village, and the ARS handling emergency calls in the township.
In Tuesday's letter announcing the split, the fire district board said its decision to change EMS service to the Antioch Fire Department will put financial, operational and personnel command for emergency services in Antioch and Antioch Township under one unified command.
Antioch Fire Department Chief John Nixon said township residents will see no disruption in service when the change takes place May 9.
"There is no reason for the residents of Antioch Township to fear they would be left unprotected," Nixon said. "The Antioch Fire Department will expand its mission to include service to the unincorporated areas of Antioch Township using its current resources. There will be no delay in service being delivered, and the fire department would provide the same quality care Antioch residents are used to."