Full speed ahead for new fire department
The creation of a new fire department by the Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District will create a ripple of consequences that could impact infrastructure and property taxes. But district President Jim Gaffney believes vindication will come when he said 911 services improve.
The district voted last month to end its long-term relationship with the city of St. Charles. That blew a $2.2 million hole in the city's budget, though city officials already announced a plan to cut costs. Those cuts include eliminating one fire company and participation in the tactical emergency medical services unit that supports the Kane County Sheriff's SWAT team.
Mayor Don DeWitte said Friday the creation of the new fire department also kills the plan for a Red Gate Road fire station. That station would've paired with the Red Gate Bridge to improve fire response to the area directly across the Fox River. DeWitte said the new fire department will be in charge of covering that area.
Indeed, Gaffney said the Red Gate Road station was a bargaining point in negotiations for the fire district to renew its contract with the city. The fire district would've chipped in $4 million to build that station. That price tag didn't make sense to Gaffney when he learned the district could build its own firehouses for about $1 million each.
But even though the Red Gate Road firehouse is dead, the Red Gate Bridge plan lives on, DeWitte said.
"We never needed the money from the fire district to build that bridge, not now and not ever," DeWitte said.
Likewise, Gaffney's vision for creating an "economical" solution to improve fire and ambulance service in the district's coverage area speeds forward. He said adding two more ambulances and water tanker trucks as well as a total staff of about 57 firefighters and paramedics to the area can only improve service. Gaffney said private company manpower, including paid-on-call employees, may even be an upgrade to what citizens have experienced in the past.
"Paid-on-call and volunteer firefighters are much more dedicated than full-time firefighters," Gaffney said. "It's not a job to them; it's a commitment."
Gaffney admitted the finances of the district will be tight with the equipment expenses. Although taxpayers rejected several recent tax increase requests by the district, they may be asked again.
"I'm not saying once we're up and running in a couple years we won't ask for a referendum," Gaffney said.
Until then the district will keep its eyes on the new plan Campton Hills is considering to start its own fire department. In theory, that would undercut much of the service area Fox River and Countryside relies on for tax dollars. Gaffney said he isn't worried.
"They can't afford to set up a fire department," Gaffney said. "It's a pipe dream as far as we're concerned."
The district's trustees expect to name the department's first chief within the next 10 days.