Glen Ellyn Fire Company facing funding crunch

Posted10/18/2013 4:53 PM

With revenues flat and numerous vehicles that need to be replaced, the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company is asking the village for a helping hand.

The company has two 20-year-old trucks that need to be replaced at a cost of $500,000 each, and in two years Chief Jim Bodony said its largest vehicle will need to be switched out at an estimated $1.2 million price tag.

In 2012 the company brought in $456,000 in revenue, but its projected operating budget came in at $684,000 -- the largest portion of that set aside for capital equipment. Revenue from sources such as donations and grants doesn't fully cover that budget.

The company is currently running its annual fund drive, but Bodony said contributions appear to have stagnated. Of 11,500 requests sent out to residents, only 24 percent came back with contributions. Requests were sent out to 600 businesses with only 69 responses.

Bodony said the company would like to save money each year to buy trucks, but has been unable to do so for several years. That funding shortfall doesn't even include costs for training and protective equipment.

"The message we're trying to get out is 'volunteer' doesn't mean free," Bodony said. "We do have cost obligations."

The company has provided the village with a 10-year master plan of its projected costs, and at Monday's board workshop a proposal to supplement the funding to meet the necessary revenue will be presented. Options the village could consider include reallocating other funds in the budget and exploring some type of fee structure.

Glen Ellyn's volunteer fire company, established in 1907, is unique to DuPage County -- but not to the country. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 69 percent of firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers.

Glen Ellyn's department is staffed at 65 members, with a fleet of 16 vehicles housed in two stations.

The fire chief is the only salaried position within the company.

"We operate with a skeleton crew during the week," Bodony said.

Bodony said a full-time fire department of paid staff would cost an estimated $4 million annually.

Bodony, a 40-year veteran of Glen Ellyn, was elected chief in April to replace Jeff Buccola. Bodony spent 37 years in Oak Brook and was chief from 2005 until retiring in 2009.

Bodony was the third Glen Ellyn chief elected in two years, following Pete Campbell and Buccola.

Bodony said the company responded to more than 3,100 calls in 2012. The company maintains the same organizational chart as a full-time department, from the chief to line officers to firefighters.

"The only difference is a paycheck," Bodony said. "Everything else is the same. The risks are the same, we train to the same standards, many are trained as paramedics and EMTs. We're fortunate to have career firefighters who volunteer their time."

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