Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says he has five meetings scheduled with fire union officials in the next few weeks, hoping to find alternative ways to trim the department’s spending without cutting staffing levels.

Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says he has five meetings scheduled with fire union officials in the next few weeks, hoping to find alternative ways to trim the department’s spending without cutting staffing levels.

Brian Scott, president of the Evanston Firefighters Association, says the union has suggested a number of steps, like reducing the travel and training budget, postponing purchases of new furniture and office equipment, or possibly eliminating civilian positions in the department.

Berkowsky has proposed cutting $275,000 in overtime payments to firefighters from the more than $20 million the city spends annually on fire services and firefighter pensions.

He’s also calling for eliminating a vacant division chief position and reducing training overtime. Combined, the reductions would trim 2 percent from the city’s fire-protection spending.

On a percentage basis that’s one of the smallest departmental cuts in the budget proposal from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, which calls for trimming roughly 10 percent of the city’s overall general fund spending.

The reduction in overtime would mean that when vacations and illnesses or injuries leave the department with less than its normal complement of 26 firefighters on duty, the city wouldn’t call in firefighters to work an overtime shift unless the staffing level would otherwise fall to less than 23.

Berkowsky says the staffing would come up at least one person short on about two-thirds of the days each year.

The city now staffs five fire engines and two ladder trucks with three-person crews and two ambulances with two-person crews and also has one shift chief on duty.

The reductions, Berkowsky says, would mean leaving one of the fire engines unstaffed on most days.

The firefighters union claims Evanston fire units are already short-staffed. They’ve launched a website where they compare staffing in Evanston to that in Chicago, where fire engines have five-person crews and the department can quickly assemble over 100 firefighters at a major blaze, four times the on-duty staffing in Evanston.

Communities of roughly equivalent size to Evanston tend to have fire departments of roughly similar size to Evanston. For example, Arlington Heights lists on its website a fire department staff of 110, and Skokie shows 110. Evanston lists 112.

The City Council has its next workshop on the budget at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. The council faces a deadline of the end of February to adopt a balanced budget for the fiscal year starting March 1.

Meanwhile, some other communities are considering more drastic measures. Firefighters in Ann Arbor, Mich. have agreed to a three percent pay cut to avoid layoffs. And Ann Arbor and the neighboring town of Ypsilanti, Mich., are considering combining some fire operations to improve service in the face of budget constraints.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. NU and Fire Department Costs
    My understanding, from talking to a fireman, is that NU is to pay for service calls [possibly after a certain number of calls].
    Is NU paying their bill ? Given the number of trucks I see going to NU, that could be $$$.

    Also are fees being collected for ambulance and other calls to the public?

    Ambulance calls — on or off campus — are billed to the patient at Medicare reimbursement rates.
    I’m not aware of any payment by the university along the lines you describe — although, like other property owners with alarm systems, they probably get billed for excessive false alarms.
    NU did agree last year to pay $550K for a new fire engine for the city.
    — Bill

  2. Close down one of the two Central Street fire stations
    Naperville in its second year of layoffs, have cut existing firefighters.

    Terminating Evanston firefighters can be done and should be done.

    There are two fire stations on Central Street less than one mile apart. CLOSE ONE DOWN and cut the firefighters housed there.

    Eliminate the merit pay increase for city union employees.

    Those two items should save a heck of lot more money than closing down the branch libraries and Ecology Center.

    Who’s running the Evanston Fire Department – the City of Evanston or the Evanston Firefighters Association?

    1. Agreed
      I agree completely. In terms of total compensation, firefighters have to be on average the most expensive of all City Employees. If you are looking to save money, this is a logical place to start.

    2. Naperville – have cut existing firefighters
      Anonymous Al,

      I am not sure where you have received your information, but you are incorrect. The City of Naperville has not laid off any firegfighters. In fact, they recently opened their 10th station, agreed to a 2 year contract with a 2% general wage increase each year, and merrit raises are still in effect.

      The Evanston fire stations on Central St. are about 1.5 miles apart. This may not seem like a significant distance, but I challenge you to get from Central and Girard to Gross Point within 4 minutes. Now add in rush hour or NU games. These station locations are not picked arbitrarily. GIS studies have been done to determine the best locations in which emergency response times are 4 minutes or less. Fire stations, apparatus, and response time are key components used to determine the fire departments ISO rating which affects what you pay for insurance. At this time, the fire department is able to respond to 96% of the city within this time frame.

      Let me be perfectly clear. This article is about public safety, not overtime. If the fire department is staffed with 26 per shift, there isn’t any overtime. For more information visit http://www.evanstonfirefacts.com

      Martin Rafacz
      Vice President
      Evanston Firefighters’ Association
      Local 742

      1. How about helping solve the problem
        Several points:

        1. Mr. Rafacz describes that Naperville opened their 10th station, etc. His post is misleading. He fails to mention is that 2 people in Naperville’s FD were in fact cut. (Google to find Naperville Sun article on this topic). Perhaps they were not fire fighters, but two people were cut nevertheless. Also, Naperville is indeed opening another fire station, but staff will be spread out to man the new station.

        More important, however, is that “Originally, the city (Naperville) was facing a $14.1 million shortfall in the 2011 budget, but was able to reduce the figure to $11.2 million through cost-cutting measures.” (source: Naperville Sun 1-8-10) In other words, they don’t have a balanced budget. They aren’t even close. Mr. Rafacz offers nothing to help address the problem that Evanston faces.

        Unfortunately public safety, along with a myriad of other city services, have to suffer. We simply can’t afford the extraordinary cost of the services to which we have grown accustomed. Mr. Bobkiewicz needs to require every department to cut 10% one way or another.

        2. Responding to another post: Evanston is not Chicago. It’s an apples and oranges comparison. We don’t have the tax base that Chicago has. Also, we don’t have the factories, the airports, etc. etc.

        3. So many people want money out of NU. How about taxing the churches? At least NU provides collateral benefits; churches get off for free. Why do they get off for free?

        4. How about selling the Evanston Art Center? And the Noyes Cultural Center? Or charging the occupants market rates. Nice to have these groups, but we can’t afford them.

        I saw an Audi recently. What a great car. I wondered what it would be like to own. Instead I will be driving my 9 year old car. Why? Can’t afford it.

  3. NU and Fire Department Costs
    It has been about two years but I spent an hour with a fireman at the Central and Canal station and he explained that after a certain number of calls houses and NU were suppose to pay an amount for additional calls. As I recall he said NU met that cut-off very quickly and I think they were suppose to pay $250 for each additional call—but that it was a constant battle to get them to do so.

    I’d be surprised Medicare would pay for anyone not enrolled let alone a 19 year old kid !
    From the 2007-2008 Budget: Ambulance Fee: increase from $300.00 for residents to $350.00 and from $400.00_
    to $450.00 for non-residents. This will produce an additional $50,000 in revenue and
    allow us to seek maximum Medicare reimbursements.

    I did not find a statement about fire calls but perhaps someone knows whether the fireman’s statement was correct.

  4. Increasing productivity and saving money
    When i see ambulances accompanied by large fire trucks i ask myself, is there a more efficient way to provide this service? Obviously, the ambulance services provided in Evanston serves a critical purpose in our community. However, is it being provided in the most efficient manner? Does a large fire truck have to go out with all ambulances? I understand that a certain number of people need to go on the call and if they all can’t fit in the ambulance, why not send a car instead of a firetruck? Precious energy would be saved and that should also make the ecologically conscious members of our community happy. Firefighters would also be able to stay in the station, ready to address other emergencies. Maybe the staffing profile and numbers could be adjusted if so many firefighters weren’t out making ambulance calls. Just a thought on a way to increase the productivity of the current resources and maybe save a little money along the way. What am i missing ?

    1. Typical civilian.

      HA!  Typical civilian.  Ok, lemme put it to you this way.  You and your baby get into a car accident.  Only the 1 ambulance shows up.  Well, one of you is screwed because it takes 2 people to work 1 victim.  So off the baby goes with them while you wait for "back-up"??  O then what about the car you are in thats on fire now???  O wait, or the other car you hit with 4 victims???  They are all paramedic/ firefighters and never know what kind of accident they are showing up to.  Its not like 911 can read minds.  They HAVE to send a truck.  Its called PROTOCOL.  Little known rules that keep you safe. There is a standard of operations manual that will save your butt if you do ever happen to have an emergency- god forbid- but you will thank the stars that more than 2 people showed up.  

    2. The following may give more info…

      The engine responds on EMS (ambulance) calls for 2 main reasons…

      First, the engine (1 of 5 spaced evenly throughout the city) is probably closer to the incident and can provide immediate Advanced Life Support care prior to the arrival of the ambulance (which may well be responding out-of-district, returning from the hospital on a previous call.)

      Second, the exact nature of the call may be unknown.  I have been on calls that were dispatched as a simple lift-assist ("I’ve fallen and can’t get up.") that turned out to be a 280lb victim in full cardiac arrest.  The engine company is there to provide manpower and assist with the critical tasks needed to provide definitive care and transport for the victim.  By dispatching both engine and ambulance together, unanticipated complications can be mitigated immediately, rather than delaying transport waiting for needed assistance.

      As far as the differences between private ambulance service and fire department ambulances, private ambulances are primarily used for non-emergent and/or scheduled transportation of patients to and from nursing homes and hospitals.  (This is not to say that private ambulances do not have the skill or ability to handle critical patients!)  Critically ill patients need the fast response times that fire-based EMS can provide.

      Hope this helps.  Feel free to stop by the firehouse to talk any time!

  5. Close one of the two Evanston Central Street fire stations

    Naperville eliminated two firefighter positions and there is talk of more layoffs. I’m sure Naperville is regretting the new fire station.

    Other cities also are laying off firefighters. They are increasing their response time but are making the necessary cuts.

    There are two fire stations on Central Street – it’s not a difficult decision to close one and lay off those housed there and sacrifice a minute or two in response time. It can be done and has been done in other towns. Don’t make me prove it.

    My motivation to close down one of two Central Street fire stations is that I’m an Evanston property owner who doesn’t want another tax increase, and would like to see the branch libraries remain open, especially since I bring my kids there at least once a week.

    Your motivation to prevent layoffs in the Evanston Fire Department is that you’re the vice president of the Evanston Firefighters’ Association UNION who happens to live in Homer Glen.

    Say Martin, does Homer Glen plan to shut down its branch libraries and the Ecology Center?

    Just saying.

    1. Close one of two fire stations
      I hope you enjoy your library book while your house is burning down.

      While we’re at it, you might close the police outposts too. That way you will have a safe place be while your house is being robbed.

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