Barrington, fire district split now irreversible

Barrington village officials told the Daily Herald editorial board Monday that the proposed split between the Barrington Fire Department and the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District on Jan. 1 is now past the point of no return.

Fire district trustees entirely agree.

So where does that leave Barrington’s union firefighters and their “We Support One Barrington Fire Department” campaign?

Union President Eric Brouilette could not be reached on Monday, but the campaign continues to be active on Facebook.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch and Village Manager Jeff Lawler explained why they believe the coming separation is in the best interest of both local governments.

The village will see the reduction of pension and potential disability costs for 20-22 firefighters used exclusively by the fire district, which is currently pursuing an expansion of services for its own 48-square-mile area.

Since about the 1950s, the fire district has contracted for services from the geographically smaller village — but the mutual benefits of that arrangement have been gradually disappearing for both agencies, Darch argued.

Firefighters, though, have strongly disagreed throughout the separation process, maintaining that public safety will be hurt by the loss of efficiency brought by one united department.

Fire district President Tom Rowan said he and his fellow trustees want to save as many firefighter jobs as possible by encouraging their re-employment through the district’s new private contractor — Schiller Park-based Paramedic Services of Illinois.

The hiring of that contractor and new administrator Jeff Swanson last week make going back to the old arrangement with Barrington virtually impossible, Rowan said.

“We hired our new fire chief/administrator and he has a three-year contract,” Rowan said. “We are going to separate (from the village). We don’t see reconciling at this point.”

The village wants to sign an automatic-aid agreement with the district, but district trustees want to hold off until the village decides on Aug. 19 whether it will employee a staff of 16 or 18 people.

District trustees said they want to make sure any agreement they sign with a neighboring department is mutually beneficial.

Rowan said he’s also eager to work out the division of the equipment both agencies co-own well ahead of New Year’s Day when the fire engines, tankers and ambulances will physically change hands and fire stations.

But with most of the preparations now behind it, there’s really no reason for the fire district to second-guess the coming split, Rowan said.

“Everyone I have talked to on the board says the same thing,” he said. “We’re done.”

The district covers parts of Barrington Hills, Lake Barrington, South Barrington, Inverness and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

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