Jax fire chief wants more staff for substation

By Gary Scott on May 5, 2016 at 7:21am

Jacksonville aldermen are going to need at least two committee meetings to decide on approving a request for more firefighters in the city.

During a Public Protection Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, aldermen were asked by Jacksonville Fire Chief Doug Sills to “immediately” hire three new firefighters / paramedics.

Sills says the fire department is undermanned at the substation on the west end of town, and says it could be a liability for the city by not meeting national fire protection standards.

“It has been used in court cases. There’s been a recent Illinois Supreme Court case where they threw out a ‘duty clause’ that kind of protected first responders,” he explains. “So, with that disappearing, we’re kind of opened up to a liability issue, which is kind of coordinated back to our response within the city.”

Sills says currently, the two-man crew at the west-end substation is hamstrung in its ability to help that part of Jacksonville: they can’t perform firefighting operations until more firefighters arrive, due to OSHA regulations.

“Given the makeup of the community over there, the huge tax base, the huge investment that the companies, industry, the life-safety issue with the hospital, the colleges, the state institutions, we can provide a quick response, but we would like to add a properly-staffed response to that,” says Sills.

Sills reminded aldermen that the city hasn’t added new staff for the fire department since the 1970s.

“When the substation was first constructed out on the west side of Jacksonville, it was the west end of Jacksonville. Since then, we’ve grown substantially since the substation’s completion. Also, along with that, when the substation was constructed, it was meant to be a four-man station. Meaning, a four-man crew on an engine company at that location,” says Sills.

“Since that time, we’ve gone through a number of attrition-related reductions, to where we’re now reduced down to three shifts of eight.”

Sills says the fire department has gone from a 32-person staff to 25.

He added that several issues are plaguing current staffing levels, including vacation time and worker’s compensation.

Sills told aldermen that hiring three firefighters would cost the city $213,00 annually. The Public Protection Committee decided to let the Finance Committee tackle the issue. Finance Committee chairman Don Cook said there will be a meeting next week.

Also yesterday afternoon, Jacksonville Police Chief Tony Grootens told aldermen that the police department abandoned its general contractor bid for finishing the JPD training complex and shooting range.

The department instead solicited bids for individual services for electric, plumbing, interior work and heating and air conditioning and came back with a total just under $178,000.

Grootens said that was a few thousand dollars less than the amount of the city drug fund, which is being used to pay for the work. The original bid from the general contractor was over $300,000.