Itasca fire chief concerned about possible 911 calls from proposed treatment center

  • Paul Valade/pvalade@dailyherald.comThe former Holiday Inn in Itasca is the site of a controversial proposal for a treatment center for people with drug and alcohol addictions.

    Paul Valade/pvalade@dailyherald.comThe former Holiday Inn in Itasca is the site of a controversial proposal for a treatment center for people with drug and alcohol addictions.

Updated 4/15/2021 7:11 PM

Itasca Fire Protection District Chief James Burke says he's concerned about the number of emergency calls his department could receive from a proposed drug and alcohol treatment center.

He's also challenging Haymarket Center's claim that its facility wouldn't place a burden on the fire protection district.


"It's not about calls, it's about impact," Burke said. "When you bring a large facility such as what's being proposed and attach potentially hundreds of calls to that facility, you run into many problems."

Burke's remarks came during a Wednesday night public hearing on Haymarket's plan to convert a former hotel along Irving Park Road into a 240-bed facility for adult patients with substance use disorders. The Chicago-based nonprofit needs permission from the village to pursue the project.

Itasca's plan commission is holding a series of hearings on the proposal. The panel eventually will make a recommendation to the village board, which has the final say.

On Wednesday, Burke acknowledged there is a need for drug treatment facilities. However, he said Itasca is too small to support Haymarket's proposal.

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If it becomes a reality, the center is expected to treat roughly 4,750 patients a year.

Haymarket officials have said a private ambulance service would handle most of the facility's medical emergencies. Still, Burke says he's concerned because the fire protection district only has one ambulance.

"We have one paramedic unit and predominantly one engine that's staffed on any given day," Burke said. "My concern, quite frankly, is the impact that the proposed Haymarket facility is going to have on our ability to provide fire and EMS services, not just to Haymarket but to the rest of the community."

In recent hearings, an expert hired by Haymarket said the fire protection district would have the capacity to cover the most critical emergency calls from the treatment center.

Former Wilmette Fire Chief James Dominik testified the treatment center would require 18 to 26 fire and EMS calls to Itasca each year. On average, the district responds to 1,636 calls per year -- the second-lowest volume out of a dozen area departments.


However, Burke said the facility would cause a 23% percent increase in EMS calls. He estimated the total number of EMS calls in the village could climb to 379 a year.

"To think we're only going to get 19 to 26 calls from the facility is absurd," Burke said.

On Thursday, Haymarket officials stood by Dominik's findings.

Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said in a statement that two experts have concluded the fire protection district has sufficient capacity to respond to calls for the proposed treatment center.

"We are committed to finding solutions to reduce any impact," Lustig said.

Meanwhile, he said, the opioid epidemic "urgently requires solutions."

"We are committed to working with Chief Burke and the village of Itasca to address this public health threat and offering a comprehensive approach to care." Lustig said.

The public hearing on Haymarket's proposal is scheduled to continue on April 28.

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