The president of Evanston Firefighters Local 742, Billy Lynch, has been making the rounds of ward meetings this month arguing that despite its budget crunch the city can’t afford to reduce fire department staffing.

At a 6th Ward meeting Thursday night, Lynch said the department is running at capacity in terms of manning and can’t afford to have any fewer firefighters on the street that it has today.

Department statistics show that the number of annual ambulance runs in Evanston has increased by nearly 20 percent over the past 10 years, while the number of fire calls has remained steady or declined slightly. Department staffing has remained essentially unchanged over that time.

The trend to increased EMS runs isn’t limited to Evanston. Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that, nationwide, emergency medical calls increase by 44 percent in the 10 years ending in 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

Those national figures also show fires and all other calls — including false alarms, mutual aid responses, hazardous material and other hazard issues — rising nearly 32 percent during the same time period.

Nationwide, EMS runs now account for 64 percent of all calls, the same percentage as in Evanston last year.

Some residents at the meeting questionned whether the city could continue to spend as much as it currently does on the department.

“We face financial constraints and all have to sacrifice something,” one man said, asking what the union’s position would be on raising the retirement age for firefighters.

Lynch responded that “this is a young man’s job” and added that because of a reduction in pension benefit levels for firefighters hired after 2011, it is actually cheaper for the city to let older firefighters retire and replace them with new ones that cost less.

The city’s pension cost for pre-2011 “tier one” firefighter pensions is 20 percent of their salary, Lynch said, while for younger firefighters like him, hired more recently, it’s only 5.5 percent.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, added that Fire Department operations now cost the city $68,744 a day including $22,683 a day in pension costs.

Related stories

Fire Department faces budget review (6/24/18)

Fire departments struggle to meet new demands (Governing, September 2018)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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