Residents grill Fox River Countryside fire district over dumping St. Charles firefighters

It didn't officially name American Emergency Services as its new 911 service provider Thursday night, but the Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District board appears to be leaning that way.

Feedback during Thursday's meeting at the St. Charles downtown fire station made it clear that some residents remain wary of what it will all mean to the emergency services in the St. Charles, Campton and Wayne township areas served by the district.

After hearing more concerns and questions about why the district board would consider not renewing its contract with the city of St. Charles for fire and emergency service — and also hearing a citizens advisory committee spokesman reiterate favorable feedback for a contract with American Emergency Services — the fire district board voted only to enter into specific negotiations with both providers to firm up contract numbers, thus allowing the board to eventually choose a provider.

“This situation reminds us that sometimes leaving the status quo is not a bad thing,” resident Dennis Marquis said.

“Perhaps some of us missed some of the details in the past as to what was going on, but we are confident in the St. Charles Fire Department, and your plan slipped by us,” Marquis told fire district trustees. “There is no excuse for not watching more closely in the past, but we will be watching more closely now. We wish you success with your plan and hope you come through on your goals of better response time and cost controls.”

Marquis was referring to district board President Jim Gaffney's past assertions that it was not cost-effective for the district to continue with St. Charles Fire Department service rather than establishing its own service, stations and equipment, thus upgrading service.

Resident Becky Lenard questioned why the district was considering a less experienced company “when the St. Charles Fire Department is a known entity.”

“We have a centrally located fire station in St. Charles, so why would we build and staff two separate offices, supposedly for better protection? It seems very unusual to me,” Lenard said.

Trustees did not discuss the issue, other than approving the resolution to further negotiations with providers, but district attorney Ken Shapro clarified that the American Emergency Services proposal cited more than 20 years of experience.

Chris Baldwin, of the district's citizens advisory committee, highlighted the panel's positive feedback for American Emergency Services in his report to trustees, while also pointing out concerns about the St. Charles Fire Department proposal, which called for services being provided from the city's stations and with city equipment, fearing the fire district's expenditures for new fire equipment and renovations for new fire stations would essentially be wasted.

He also reminded trustees that the St. Charles Fire Department was not committing to hiring new personnel to man fire district stations, which St. Charles Fire Chief Pat Mullen has said is a budgeting process issue that didn't coincide with the board's proposal deadlines.

Baldwin also said the new St. Charles proposal would eliminate any influence or voting power the district has with the Tri-Cities Ambulance Service, which provides paramedic services to the fire district.