Commission studying Antioch-area fire, rescue services with goal to streamline protection
Officials say goal to streamline service
Residents in Antioch and Antioch Township have what might be considered an embarrassment of riches when it comes to emergency protection.
That's because four fire or rescue agencies -- First Fire Protection District of Antioch, Antioch Rescue Squad, the Antioch Volunteer Fire Department and Superior Ambulance Service -- provide services to about 28,000 residents in a 37-square-mile area.
But the number of agencies and the niches they've carved out in the community have also created a confusing system of service now being targeted for a possible overhaul to make it more simple and efficient, local officials said.
Antioch Village Administrator Jim Keim and Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon are members of a newly created fire safety commission including village, township and fire district officials that has been tasked with cutting through the confusion and replacing it with the best -- and most cost-effective -- protection available.
"The public safety committee is looking at the best models, looking at the estimated tax revenue in each, and deciding what it will take to operate," Nixon said. "The overall goal is to deliver the highest-quality fire and medical services to the community of Antioch and Antioch Township."
Village and township officials acknowledge that board disputes, ownership confusion and the ever-changing needs of fire and rescue have contributed to create a duplication of services in some areas in and around Antioch.
The quilt of emergency services begins with the First Fire Protection District of Antioch, the village of Antioch, and the Antioch Volunteer Fire Department. The volunteer fire department provides fire protection in the village and the fire district answers fire calls in unincorporated areas of the township, Nixon said. Roughly 65 percent of the fire calls are in the village, while 35 percent are elsewhere, he said.
The boundaries are less clear when it comes to equipment, manpower and rescue services, officials said.
Nixon said most area fire stations, equipment and fire trucks are co-owned by the fire district and the village. The volunteer fire department also provides manpower to the fire district to fight fires in unincorporated areas. And, rescue calls are split between the Antioch Rescue Squad in unincorporated areas and Superior Ambulance in the village, he said.
Even Nixon wears many hats in the system. He stepped down as the fire district chief earlier this year but still serves as a commander at the fire district and is chief of the Antioch Volunteer Fire Department.
"It stands to reason that, if it's complex, convoluted and confusing, then maybe there's a better way," Keim said.
To address the problem, the commission is reviewing four ideas, and will present the findings to officials from the three boards in January. They are:
• Give control of all the agencies to the fire district, and expand its board to five trustees to include two village-appointed members with a rotating chairman.
• Expand the village fire department operation to cover Antioch and the township, taking over control of the fire district in most areas.
• Completely split the two entities and create a full-time village fire department and a full-time township fire district,
• Keep things as they are, and continue to pool resources and money.
The toughest aspect of any change will likely involve the future of the Antioch Rescue Squad, which has been serving area residents since 1938.
In May, the rescue squad elected to end its service in the village after leadership could not come to terms on a contract with the village board.
At issue were various conflicts that began when village board members tried to exert more control over the squad after a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three female squad members that came to light in May 2012. The lawsuit led to the state issuing fines and requesting operational changes at the rescue squad amid findings that squad members had unauthorized access to prescription drugs and patients were mistreated during ambulance runs.
Things worsened when former rescue squad treasurer John Edgell was charged with -- and later pleaded guilty to -- theft for stealing $25,000 from the squad.
Those problems led to township Supervisor Steve Smouse stepping down as the rescue squad president and to the retirement of former rescue squad Chief Wayne Sobczak. The rescue squad is now headed by former Deputy Chief Brian DeKind.
After the rescue squad left the village, its officials signed a one-year contract with the fire district to continue handling rescue calls in unincorporated areas. Superior Ambulance Service was hired at the village's expense to cover ambulance calls for village residents.
Nixon admitted that, should the various entities consolidate, it could lead to the end of the Antioch Rescue Squad.
"It could happen, yes, but that's a long way off," he said. "There are still many scenarios we have to go through before any decisions are made."
All scenarios would be reviewed by the various boards, and voters may even have a referendum question to decide before any plans are approved, he said.
Antioch rescue squad Chief Brian DeKind said he favors being a part of the discussion and understands there are many scenarios that could play out before a resolution is reached.
"I'm certainly in favor of doing what is in the best interests of the people of Antioch," he said. "I think it's just a matter of varying opinions on what is best for Antioch as a whole."
DeKind said he will watch the situation as talks inch forward.
"We believe we are doing a good thing for the community and would like to see that continue," he said.
The idea of consolidating Antioch-area fire and rescue services is not new. A study completed in 2008 by the Illinois Fire Chief's Association showed the Antioch Volunteer Fire Department, Antioch Rescue Squad and the First Fire Protection District should consolidate, Nixon said, but it was never implemented.
"It's taken us five years to come to the table to address these matters and do it objectively without any agendas," he said. "It's very difficult, from an operational standpoint, to work with the various entities until some collective results occur. We can send fire trucks anywhere, but having two established EMS providers is extremely difficult."