DuPage fire districts agree to share resources

In an agreement hailed as a first for DuPage County, two fire protection districts have agreed to share resources and operate as a single entity when responding to emergency calls.

The Lisle-Woodridge Fire District board of trustees on Tuesday gave final approval for an automatic response agreement with the neighboring Darien-Woodridge Fire Protection District. The pact takes effect Monday and will go through a trial period that ends Dec. 31, 2018.

"We believe it's a positive move for both districts, and we think it's a positive move for anyone needing services in either district." Lisle-Woodridge fire Chief Keith Krestan said.

Starting Monday, the districts will share equipment and personnel and use seven fire stations. One existing station - Darien-Woodridge Station 88 at the southeast corner of Belmont Road and 59th Street - will be closed.

"We will be functioning as one big unit instead of two separate units on the street," Krestan said. "We're still separate organizations, but operationally, we'll be functioning as a group."

The intergovernmental agreement is the culmination of discussions that began in January 2016 when the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association completed a consolidation study of the districts. The study was commissioned by the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.

The study concluded that an operational consolidation of the fire protection districts should occur and that consolidation would benefit both entities.

Tim Capua, president of the union that represents Lisle-Woodridge's firefighters, said there have been two failed attempts to consolidate the districts since the mid-1990s. Still, firefighters wanted to have the study done.

"We thought in order to have a legitimate chance, we needed real empirical data," Capua said. "The only way to get that was to perform a study."

Despite the findings, officials decided that seeking consolidation at this time would be a daunting task. So they chose to pursue a plan of "functional cooperation."

Capua said the rank-and-file support the agreement.

"It provides the safest, most efficient workforce possible between both departments for the citizens," Capua said.

For example, Darien-Woodridge currently is only able to assign two firefighters to its engines and ladder truck. Under the new agreement, the department can assign three people to its fire vehicles. Lisle-Woodridge already does that.

Krestan said Lisle-Woodridge also will benefit.

"It's going to improve our fire force as far as how we put people on the scene of a fire and how quickly we put people on the scene," he said.

Lisle-Woodridge and Darien-Woodridge also are expected to save money on overtime costs. In May alone, Lisle-Woodridge is projected to see a 40 percent reduction in overtime.

Officials said the arrangement could lead to other cost-saving moves related to joint purchasing, training, IT services and vehicle maintenance.

This week, county board Chairman Dan Cronin called the agreement "a remarkable achievement."

"It can serve as a model for other public safety entities," he said.

Lisle-Woodridge and Darien-Woodridge officials will decide by December 2018 whether to continue the arrangement. In the meantime, other departments will be watching to see how it works.

"There's been a lot of talk about how many units of local government there are in the state of Illinois," Krestan said. "This is a way of showing that we can work together and collaborate in ways that protect firefighters and provide the best service possible to the community we serve."

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