Inverness mayor wants only Palatine rural fire district, not also Barrington Countryside

Leaders of villages served by the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District are largely expressing satisfaction with the district’s plans to protect homes and businesses as an independent fire department after Jan. 1.

But Inverness Village President Jack Tatooles is asking for one more thing to feel comfortable.

Given the distances to his village from the district’s stations in Lake Barrington and Barrington Hills, Tatooles wants to see a tweaked automatic-aid agreement that would have the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District respond to all calls in Inverness.

“That Pepper Road station (in Lake Barrington) is so far away it might as well be in Wisconsin,” Tatooles said. “I think Palatine Rural can better serve the western side of our town.”

While the Lake Barrington station is about 7 miles from the nearest part of Inverness and the Barrington Hills station just over 5 miles away, Palatine Rural’s station is only 1.5 miles from the west side of the village.

Not only does Palatine Rural have proximity on its side, but it also has the lack of potential delays at railroad crossings, Tatooles said.

Palatine Rural’s own jurisdiction covers the eastern two-thirds of Inverness. And while Palatine Rural already has an automatic-aid agreement with Barrington Countryside, Tatooles believes this agreement should be amended to reflect that the village of Barrington’s own fire station on Route 14 will no longer be affiliated with Barrington Countryside next year.

After a decades-long contractual relationship, the village of Barrington will stop providing fire staffing and service to the 48-square-mile Barrington Countryside district just beyond its borders.

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

Palatine Rural Fire Chief Hank Clemmensen said Tatooles’ request sounded reasonable and that the fire district has had a strong relationship with Inverness over the years.

But such an agreement has to be studied in detail to determine whether residents of one jurisdiction would be subsidizing service to another, he said.

“When we do automatic-aid agreements, we want them to be equal in some way,” Clemmensen said. “It’s not fair to my residents to have a lopsided auto-aid agreement.”

A fee can help make up the difference where there’s not much opportunity for reciprocation of service. For instance, Palatine Rural pays fees to the villages of Palatine and Rolling Meadows so they can respond automatically to a southeastern area of the district closer to their respective stations.

Barrington Countryside board President Tom Rowan said he couldn’t comment on the likelihood of a new auto-aid agreement with Palatine Rural.

But Clemmensen predicted a busy autumn for all concerned parties.

“I don’t think the story’s over yet,” Clemmensen said. “There’s still four months to go.”

Though the village of Barrington has proposed an automatic-aid agreement with Barrington Countryside, the fire district’s trustees have expressed their belief that they could be giving more than they’d be getting.

The fire district is significantly increasing its staffing from three firefighters at each station per shift to five or six. Trustees also recently agreed to offer jobs to the 19 Barrington firefighters to be laid off at the end of the year at their current union-level salaries.

Both Barrington Hills Village President Martin McLaughlin and South Barrington Village President Paula McCombie expressed satisfaction with the level of service and with the retention of experience in the fire district.

McLaughlin, however, said he would like to learn more about the financial impact of adding to the staff and wonders why the district would even contemplate a referendum to provide firefighter pensions without a significant increase in the district’s population.

Barrington Township Supervisor Gene Dawson, whose board of trustees appoints three of the five Barrington Countryside trustees, said he’s received inquiries but no criticisms on how the fire district is handling its separation from the Barrington Fire Department.

While Barrington Countryside has guaranteed no hitches or glitches in its service, Dawson said there probably can be no real test of the new arrangement before Barrington and the fire district are truly operating independently.

“I think we have to wait and see because we haven’t had this experience in the past,” Dawson said.

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