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Chief: Layoffs would raise response time

Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says closing one of the city’s fire stations could dramatically raise the time it it takes to respond to fires.

Firefighters at the 612 Sheridan Road blaze last year that left dozens homeless.

Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says closing one of the city’s fire stations could dramatically raise the time it it takes to respond to fires.

Firefighters at the 612 Sheridan Road blaze last year that left dozens homeless.

And while Evanston cooperates with neighboring communities to provide mutual aid when a fire strikes — the nearest towns can’t always help out, because they may be fighting fires of their own.

Berkowsky cited a fire a year ago at 612 Sheridan Road that left dozens of people homeless.

Normally, Berkowsky says, Wilmette would have been the first community to send aid with a fire that size. But Wilmette firefighters were fighting a blaze of their own that night, and by the time the first mutual aid truck arrived from Park Ridge, a half hour had gone by.

Berkowsky says the five fire stations distributed around the city now make it possible to achieve an average response time of just under four minutes.

Response time is considered key in reducing property damage and deaths and injuries from fires.

He says that with one station closed, people in the area served by the closed station would have to wait several more minutes for the next closest unit to respond.

And calls frequently come in bunches, Berkowsky says. Typically once or twice a day all units are out on calls, and with fewer units available, that would mean longer response times all across the city.

Berkowsky says Evanston is much more compact, with a higher population density than many other suburbs. That offers some advantages. With two hospitals in town, fire ambulances can deliver a patient to a hospital more quickly than they could in some other towns, where the nearest hospital may be a 20 minute drive away.

But he says it also means Evanston has no high-speed roads that fire units can use to get to an emergency scene quickly.

Skokie, for example has eight more sworn fire fighters than the 108 in Evanston, and only three fire stations, compared to Evanston’s five. But it has 10.2 square miles to cover, compared to just under 8 for Evanston.

Skokie firefighters, serving 67,000 residents, respond to just under 8,000 calls a year, while Evanston firefighters, serving 78,000 resents, respond to more than 9,000 calls a year.

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