Antioch Rescue Squad at center of ambulance donation flap
Stone Park Fire Chief Michael Paige received a gift last year when the Antioch Rescue Squad offered to give his department a used ambulance stocked with medical supplies.
The donated vehicle expanded his fleet, which includes an ambulance purchased new in 2012, and gives him choices.
"We rotate it (the donated vehicle) with the new ambulance to try and conserve them both," Paige said. "Ambulances are not cheap, so we are trying to keep it (the newer ambulance) new."
In all, the squad gave three ambulances to agencies outside its home base in Antioch and Antioch Township, yet denied a request for a similar donation to the nearby Antioch Fire Department, Antioch fire officials said. Rescue squad leaders initially approved the request in March 2014 but rescinded it a month later, Antioch fire officials said, and forced them to spend $69,000 in taxpayer money to buy and equip a used ambulance.
Those squad ambulances and lifesaving equipment were originally purchased, in part, with donations from Antioch-area residents and groups, Antioch Fire Department Chief John Nixon said, and they should have been made available to benefit rescue services close to home.
"Could we have used those ambulances and equipment? Absolutely," he said. "Because we didn't see one dime from (the Antioch Rescue Squad), we had to spend taxpayer money to bring in ambulances and equipment to operate and protect the residents of Antioch and Antioch Township."
Antioch Rescue Squad Chief Brian DeKind and President Todd Thommes did not respond to numerous requests for interviews on the matter.
However, officials with the First Fire Protection District of Antioch think the reason behind the choice of ambulance recipients may stem from the 75-year-old volunteer organization not being offered a contract to provide rescue services -- a job now being handled by the Antioch Fire Department.
The Antioch Fire Department handles fire and rescue services in Antioch and Antioch Township. It is funded by and receives oversight from the village of Antioch, Antioch Township, and the First Fire Protection District of Antioch.
DeKind never provided a specific reason for rejecting the donation request, fire district Administrator Ted Jozefiak said, but he believes it's because the squad was "upset for not having them as a service provider."
"I asked him if we could have an ambulance, and he said 'yes,'" Jozefiak said. "He called later and said the membership of the rescue squad voted against it. They didn't give us anything."
Antioch-area fire and rescue relationships began to sour in 2012 after three female Antioch Rescue Squad members named several squad members and high-ranking officials in a sexual harassment lawsuit. A subsequent Illinois Department of Public Health investigation found squad members mistreated patients, abused medications and allowed employees to begin shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol.
A short time later, a former squad treasurer was charged with theft of more than $10,000 and pleaded guilty. Former Antioch Rescue Squad Chief Wayne Sobczak retired, and squad President Steve Smouse stepped down soon after.
DeKind and Thommes took over, but the squad parted ways with the village of Antioch in May 2013 when the two sides couldn't come to terms on a long-term contract. The fire department initially hired an ambulance contractor to handle emergency calls, Nixon said, but it started purchasing ambulances and supplies to bring ambulance service in house.
The squad continued to serve township residents for a year until the fire protection district board did not renew its contract in May 2014. The board decided to contract rescue services with the fire department in order to consolidate all village and township fire and rescue services under one agency.
No longer needed, the squad ambulances and equipment were donated to the Lake County High Schools Technology Campus in Grayslake and the Newport Township Fire Protection District in Wadsworth, in addition to Stone Park's fire department in Cook County.
Derrick Burress, principal of the tech campus, said squad leaders offered a used ambulance worth $15,000 for teaching purposes April 17. It was approved by the tech campus board May 2, Burress said.
"It's truly a great educational tool for students here," Burress said. "It's used every day to train EMS students in Lake County, including students from Antioch."
Stone Park's Paige said his department received the former squad ambulance in late spring or early summer through a Stone Park commander and a lieutenant, who also were Antioch Rescue Squad volunteers. Paige said the $10,000 ambulance had more than 100,000 miles on it, but was stocked with emergency supplies, including health service packs and a cot.
"They offered it to us," he said. "We have a connection to the two employees that made the offer, so we took it."
Mark Kirschhoffer, chief of Newport fire district, said he was contacted by a squad member and asked if he "could use another ambulance."
Kirschhoffer said the 2007 Road Rescue ambulance -- worth about $15,000 -- is a back up to the district fleet of ambulances.
"I told Chief Nixon in Antioch they can certainly use it should anything happen and they need one," Kirschhoffer said.
Nixon said it takes about four ambulances to serve residents in Antioch and Antioch Township. Three serve as primary rescue vehicles and one is used as a reserve.
The fire department purchased and stocked two "vintage" ambulances for use in the village of Antioch in 2013, Nixon said. A used ambulance was donated by the Antioch Firefighters Association in February 2014, and another used ambulance was purchased in May.
Nixon said the Antioch village board and fire district paid about $157,000 to buy and stock all four ambulances to get the rescue service up and running. The overall cost was $232,000, minus the $20,000 firefighters association donation and $55,000 from a state-controlled insurance fund.
"You have to stock it with supplies like life packs and defibrillators and things like that," he said. "Had the ARS donated their ambulances to us, we wouldn't have needed to spend the money to get the vintage ones up and running."
Nixon said a future cost savings was also possible because newer squad ambulances could have replaced older ambulances purchased by the department. Any supplies the squad could have donated to them would have been used to offset the cost of keeping ambulances stocked, he added. "As a result of the ARS' decision, we had to use taxpayer money to purchase and stock a fourth ambulance," Nixon said. "They had the opportunity to donate items to us, but they chose not to."