The Winchester Fire Department is facing a dramatic financial need.
Winchester Fire Chief Fred Andrews told the Winchester City Council Wednesday night that the Illinois Department of Labor will soon be auditing his department for procedures and equipment. The Department of Labor along with the Illinois Occupational Safety & Health Administration has been auditing volunteer fire departments to make sure they are in compliance with current occupational regulations.
Andrews presented the council with a new standards and operations manual last night to approve. The manual was necessary as one of the requirements for the upcoming audit. Andrews told the council that he modeled the policy manual after the Village of South Jacksonville’s current fire department manual, with necessary updates and changes that were specific to Winchester.
Andrews says that his department now needs to begin being in compliance on equipment that is quickly reaching the regulated end of operational life: “We are looking for tanks for our SCBAs, which they expire in 2026. We have 26 of them that we need to replace, and they are roughly $1,200 apiece. Our funding is not quite there for that. Then, some of our turn-out gear is truthfully getting older, so we need to replace it. That’s several thousands of dollars in itself. We’re just looking into trying to find funding for all of our equipment.”
Andrews says that the 26 tanks were donated to the Winchester Fire Department by the City of Jacksonville’s Fire Department a few years ago.
Andrews says that the state auditors will always look to try and find problems and write citations. Most of the citations don’t amount to monetary fines for department, but it does cost them money to get into compliance. He says that the state is being especially hard on local volunteer fire departments.
The Beardstown Fire Department was issued multiple citations and fined $3,960 by the Illinois Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health in June for the May 2021 fire at the former Myers Hotel building where 3 firefighters were injured during the course of the fire fight.
Andrews says that with the new manual that the Winchester City Council passed, his department’s volunteers will all have to be trained on each of the regulations as mandated by law. Andrews says that the audits and mandates from the state are extremely burdensome for small departments like Winchester: “It’s a big strain. For a small town with all volunteers [on the department] and we have a hard time getting in training and then all of our [required] training as it is, then doing all of this extra work for all of the paperwork that [the State of Illinois] wants, so yeah, it’s a real big strain on our training program.”
Andrews says that calls are up this year for fire service in Winchester. He says so far in 2022, they have received 31 calls for service.
Those calls do not include medical calls as Winchester EMS, who is also in financial straits, covers those calls. On Wednesday, the Winchester City Council renewed a letter of recommendation to create a special service taxing district to fund the EMS. The council previously passed sending the letter in 2019 to the Scott County Commissioners. Scott County recently passed an advisory referendum during the June primary 525-383 to create the district. The referendum now heads to the commissioners to construct and pass a county ordinance creating the special taxing district. The district would serve the southern portion of Scott County. Winchester EMS emergency medical technician Jennifer McMillen told the Winchester City Council on Wednesday that the EMS currently only has about 4 volunteers working the service.
Andrews hopes that he can find a grant writer for the Winchester Fire Department and get some of the costs for the equipment offset by applying with the Illinois State Fire Marshal equipment grants and low-interest loan programs this year.