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Old decisions limit fire budget options

Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says Evanston officials have considered and rejected reducing the number of fire stations in town in the past.

Berkowsky says that some years ago the City Council considered replacing the two north side stations with one new station on the former city auto testing lane site on Ashland Avenue, near where McCormick Boulevard meets Green Bay Road.

Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says Evanston officials have considered and rejected reducing the number of fire stations in town in the past.

Berkowsky says that some years ago the City Council considered replacing the two north side stations with one new station on the former city auto testing lane site on Ashland Avenue, near where McCormick Boulevard meets Green Bay Road.

But, he says, opposition from people who live near the existing stations killed off that plan.

A consultant’s review of the fire department, published in 2006, includes maps showing that many parts of the city now can be reached within four-minutes travel time by engine companies located at more than one fire station. Four minutes is considered a general standard for measuring adequate response time.

Berkowsky said he didn’t recall details of the Ashland Avenue station proposal, but that it might have meant some parts of the northwest corner of town couldn’t have been reached from the station within four minutes.

Now that the city has spent millions to build new fire stations on the north side — station 3 in 2004 and station 5 in 2009 — it would be very expensive to try to consolidate the operation.

Berkowsky, who’s been with the department for almost three decades, said that in the past there also were discussion of consolidating stations 2 and 4 on the city’s south side, but that idea was also rejected. Station 2 was renovated in 1990 and Station 4 was rebuilt in 1988.

The consultant’s report also provides data showing the frequency of fires in different parts of the city.

A map of that data shows that the locations of stations 1, 2 and 3 correspond well to the parts of town where fires are most likely to occur.

Skokie, with 10.5 square miles to cover, compared to just under 8 for Evanston, manages to operate with just three stations, but Berkowsky says Skokie also has wider streets with higher speed limits that make it possible for fire trucks to travel farther in a given amount of time.

Berkowsky and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz have proposed reducing overtime for firefighters as one of numerous steps to close a $9.5 million budget gap. The overtime cutback would mean that instead of having a minimum of 26 firefighters per shift the city would allow staffing to fall as low as 23 before calling back firefighters on overtime to makeup the gap.

That would mean the city would be short at least one firefighter, and would have to leave a three-person engine company unstaffed, about two out of every three days during the year.

Related document

Fire and Emergency Medical Services Evaluation 2005-06 (3.6mb .pdf file)

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