No deal yet on Barrington, fire district cooperation

A day after Barrington approved its new fire department staffing plan, the village’s hope for an automatic-aid agreement with the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District remained far from certain.

Fire district President Tom Rowan said he and his fellow trustees must still discuss whether an agreement would lead to their 48-square-mile jurisdiction receiving help from Barrington firefighters as often as the district firefighters would be called upon to assist Barrington.

“It has to be beneficial to our taxpayers,” Rowan said. “We cannot continue to subsidize the village’s operations.”

Under the proposed auto-aid agreement, calls would be primarily responded to by the nearest station, regardless of jurisdiction.

After a decades-long contractual agreement, the district is breaking away from the Barrington Fire Department on Jan. 1 to start its own department. Fire district trustees partly blame a breakdown in the collaborative nature of that relationship as the reason for the imminent split.

“For 20 years, (Barrington officials) had the ultimate auto-aid agreement with the district,” Rowan said. “And they chose for that not to continue.”

Village officials say the benefits of an automatic-aid agreement should be attractive to both agencies.

Based on data from the past four years, Barrington officials said firefighters based in the village have responded to calls in the district approximately 2.5 times as often as the other way around.

But Rowan said those figures are contrary to data he’s seen showing that of the approximately 3,000 calls per year in their shared jurisdiction, about 2,000 have been in the village of Barrington itself.

Barrington officials Monday approved a plan to staff the village’s department with 18 personnel. That eliminates 20 positions currently dedicated to the fire district, but because of a vacancy only 19 will be laid off.

The fire district board is planning to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26 to approve a staffing plan of its own. Through its hired contractor, Paramedic Services of Illinois, the fire district plans to offer positions to all 19 laid off firefighters at their current salaries and earned vacation. The fire district won’t be able to immediately offer pensions, but will offer a 401(k) retirement plan.

Though both the fire district and Barrington officials say they’re confident in their new operating models, union firefighters and their supporters say the split will inevitably hurt service.

Lt. Bruce Peterson, a 25-year veteran of the Barrington Fire Department, said no agreements between the two agencies can restore what’s being lost.

“It’s like cutting an egg in two and saying you have two eggs,” Peterson said.

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

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