Citing rising costs associated with responding to emergencies, a group of mayors and fire chiefs is calling on firefighting agencies in DuPage County to voluntarily work together to save money and improve service.
The DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference Fire Services Stakeholders group has drafted a proposal to have fire departments and fire protection districts coordinate services through a quadrant system.
If the plan becomes a reality, DuPage would be divided into four parts with borders defined by I-88 and I-355. The agencies within each quadrant would be encouraged to share resources, engage in group purchasing practices, share training resources and standardize fire and operational guidelines, officials said.
"We are trying to get a system for cooperation that will keep prices down, keep costs down and maintain the level of efficiency and service that we already have," said county board member Gary Grasso, co-chairman of the fire services stakeholders group.
Grasso presented details about the group's plan Tuesday during a county board committee meeting.
He said the regional fire service concept was developed by the group over a four-year period.
The panel initially explored the possibility of creating a countywide fire department.
"Even in the land of Chicago and thinking big, that was probably too much to take on," Grasso said.
Nevertheless, he said, something must be done because the cost of pensions, equipment and other expenses continue to rise.
"Even an affluent community like DuPage County is having its cost problems," Grasso said. "We know that this eventually is going to curtail service."
County board member Grant Eckhoff, who has long sought consolidation of fire districts and departments, said agencies need to work together because of budget challenges.
"This whole thing is driven by economics," Eckhoff said. "We're trying to get ahead of the curve and present an opportunity for people to come together to save costs."
Grasso said a quadrant system can work in DuPage because the county has an abundance of fire stations, equipment and well-trained firefighters.
"If we had to erase all the boundaries, we could come up with a system where we could cooperate, collaborate and consolidate and still maintain the highest level of fire services for the residents of DuPage County," Grasso said.
Of course, the idea won't happen unless agencies agree to participate.
"This is voluntary," Grasso said. "Nobody is mandating anything. Even if we had the authority -- which we do not -- this is for the professionals to drive the collaboration, cooperation and consolidation."
Officials said the next step is to present the idea to the fire chiefs, municipalities, fire protection districts, unions and others.
Grasso pointed out that some agencies already have a similar arrangement. The West Suburban Fire/Rescue Alliance, which includes the Wheaton Fire Department and the Carol Stream, West Chicago and Winfield fire protection districts, has worked to reduce emergency response times and share resources.
Mike Kopp, assistant city manager of Elmhurst, said he believes firefighting agencies will be responsive to the regional concept because one of the goals is to improve service.
"The fact is that we will make fire protection services better," said Kopp, a former fire chief. "The more we work together, the better we will be at it."