Despite ongoing budget woes, Evanston officials so far have dismissed the idea of making any major changes to how fire protection is delivered to the community — but towns elsewhere are considering some major shifts.

Despite ongoing budget woes, Evanston officials so far have dismissed the idea of making any major changes to how fire protection is delivered to the community — but towns elsewhere are considering some major shifts.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan, officials over the weekend discussed the possibility of shifting to a “paid on-call” system to provide part of its fire department staffing as part of their response to declining city revenues.

Ann Arbor now has a full-time paid fire staff of 89 for a town of 113,000 people. That compares to 110 in Evanston’s fire department to serve 78,000 people — or a little more than half Evanston’s current per-capita staffing level.

Some Ann Arbor officials are looking to the Detroit suburb of Troy for inspiration on cost savings. That town of 80,000 people has a combination of 13 full-time fire department employees and 180 certified, trained volunteers. It also has the same class 3 fire insurance rating as Evanston.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. What about a regional fire protection district … ?

    One that would include Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette and Morton Grove?  Could lead to huge savings.

  2. Evanston Fire Union would douse any firefighting alternative

    These are wonderful ideas, including a regional fire protection district.

    But how could Evanston implement any of them when the City Council this year setled a lawsuit with the Evanston Fire Union, agreeing to allow a third party arbritator to decide whether the city can layoff any Evanston firefighters? The city lost control of managing its fire department. And still, in this gloom and doom economic crisis, not one Evanston firefighter has been laid off.

    Judging by what the cities Ann Arbor and Troy are doing,  it is clear the Evanston City Council and city manager are way behind the times, and have no grasp of the seriousness of our dire financial condition.

    Their approach is to coddle and cuddle the unions while raising taxes and utility rates on it citizenry.

    There is no one to blame but us.

  3. Actually, Evanston due to the

    Actually, Evanston due to the hard work of it’s firefighters and staff have boosted the ISO rating from a 3 to a 2.  Staffing is a direct impact, and still short by indursty standards; along with fire stations, equipment, response times (which would increase dramatically waiting for someone to drive in from home to jump a fire truck and answer a call), water supply, training, number of Firefighter/Paramedics, and a host of other important ratings that will save Evanston businesses especially with this new lower ISO rating. 

    As for combining with a regional department, good luck with that.  It takes the ability to split taxpayer dollars, govertmental agreements, shared community resources to fix, purchase and maintain equipment, not to mention a pile of legal issues.  There are current inter agency agreements to assist each other that are so great, they are being mirrored in states across the COUNTRY.  The response to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina from Illinois were so organized and well done, the plan is being duplicated from coast to coast now. 

    As for coddling the unions, the unions have worked extremely hard with the City and Staff from the International Union to the local union in helping to find ways to improve services, while reducing costs.  You aren’t going to find a private company that is willing to do that with your tax dollars.  Take a look at towns that do rely on volunteer’s and paid-on-call.  The "volunteerism" in this country has taken a dive Bill.  Towns are forced to hire paid members to "supplement" the paid-on-calls because they are busy working full-time jobs during the day or evening.  You are given the opportunity to have fully trained, dedicated personell that protect THIS town 24/7 with a response time of nearly 2 minutes to each and every door.  Could you get to the firehouse from your work or home, then drive to another residence in that amount of time?  Seconds make the difference between life and death Bill.  Take that into consideration.  As for the no layoffs, the "unions" agreed to zero % raises and increased health insurance contributions, as well as offering solutions to save money and still provide the type of protection that would allow a reduced ISO rating Bill.  Hope you have a Merry Christmas.

    1. Fire rating

      Evanston’s city website still says we have a class 3 fire rating.

      Wonderful news if it’s actually been upgraded.

      I tried a couple of years ago to get data from city officials to show whether — once a city had a fire safety rating of 4 or higher — any further improvement would be reflected in lower fire insurance rates for residents — and they were unable to provide any data to support the idea.

      — Bill


  4. If the city declares bankruptcy …

    Couldn’t it then reconstitute its fire protection?  Alternatively, if we partner with our neighborinfg communities, could they possible PAY EVANSTON as beneficiaries of our fire protection prowess?  All ideas need to be on the table.  The old paradigm is extinct.

  5. Fact Check Time

    A quick check of the Ann Arbor FD web site shows that they are a ISO class 4 not 3. Evanston is a Class 2 last I heard. 

    AAFD has about 6000 calls of service per year while EFD is around 9000.   If we are going to propose ideas like this, lets make sure we are comparing apples to apples. 

    Also, If people (Al) really think the fire and police are a wasting tax dollars, I would sure like, for once, to see some actual evidence. 

    1. Time to read

      Hi John,

      Read the story more carefully. The reference to class 3 fire rating was for Troy, Mich., not Ann Arbor.



  6. Gary

    How is it that Gary Indiana just laid off 1/3 of it’s firefighters, and the chief told the citizens not to worry about it.  Evanston–tighten your belt, before it’s too late?

    1. Gary

      Ever take a drive through Gary Indiana?  It isn’t exactly Evanston, nor do I think you want it to be.  Try comparing an apple to an apple like the other poster stated.  I would say that the Council and Mr. Bobkowitz has done an outstanding job of tightening the belt around here.  If our businesses and downtown streets start to look like Gary Indiana, laying off firefighters will be the least of your concern!  If the Chief of Gary told his citizens that, it was probably from behind a bullet proof window I hope.

  7. Only in Cook. Only in

    Only in Cook. Only in Illinois. That is what any neutral, outside reader of the pertinent Evanston stats – 5 firehouses, 113 careerists for 87k residents, 250 actual fires a year, etc – would say about it. Evanston is in a class by itself, in its staffing and compensation levels. The word outlier comes to mind.

    They are chosen ones- beneficiaries of a political patronage culture.

    Goblue23- you are asking the wrong question. It isnt a matter of firefighters being wasteful. It is a matter of their positions (MANY) being wasteful. Want proof? Look at the EMS call log and see what [cough] emergencies [cough] they respond to all day. Oh I forgot, it isn’t published. (unlike other municipalities.) I wonder why.

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