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posted: 3/25/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Lessons in agency's bid to regain trust

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  • Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comAntioch Fire Department and Rescue Squad at 835 Holbeck Drive in Antioch.

      Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comAntioch Fire Department and Rescue Squad at 835 Holbeck Drive in Antioch.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The uncertainty of what the future holds for the Antioch Rescue Squad arrived last week in a letter saying its rescue services are no longer needed.

Losing its contract to provide rescue services in the unincorporated areas of Antioch Township is the latest blow in a tumultuous two years that have landed the 75-year-old rescue squad in the news for all the wrong reasons.

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That recent troubled past was not publicly identified as a reason for the change, but the fact is this once-venerable and respected volunteer organization is saddled with a very tarnished reputation.

Its damaged image is a lesson to any group -- government and otherwise -- that loses sight of the right way to conduct itself in the community and breaches the public's trust.

For anyone who has forgotten, the Antioch Rescue Squad's problems began two years ago when a lawsuit was filed by three former members alleging sexual harassment involving several colleagues.

That touched off an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health that revealed some 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.

Throw in an ARS treasurer who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $10,000 from the group and you have the kind of frat house misbehavior that no community wants from the people charged with saving lives.

Since then, ARS has seen its role diminish in the community, first losing its contract to handle rescue calls within Antioch, and now in the unincorporated areas of the township.

The squad is on the outside looking in on the proposed overhaul of fire and rescue services in Antioch and Antioch Township designed to streamline and simplify the operation.

Where three agencies once provided rescue services in a 37-square-mile area, a proposal by the village's special fire safety commission features one unified agency.

Official reasons for making the change included funding, duplication of services and disputes between the various groups.

It's tough to see how ARS's damaged image wasn't a factor in their exclusion.

So where do they go from here?

Antioch Rescue Squad officials say they now plan to shift their focus away from providing emergency medical services.

Instead, they'll conduct community paramedicine programs, such as home health care and wellness checks, as a way to continue serving the community.

If they go that route, we urge ARS to see this as a chance for a fresh start and to seize any opportunities to rebuild the community's trust and forge a new image.

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