In a momentous step to restructure the fire and emergency services in the Barrington area, the Barrington Village Board voted unanimously Monday to lay off 19 firefighter-paramedics at the end of the year.
The layoffs result from the termination of a long-standing intergovernmental agreement that had the village department and the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District working together over an area of more than 50 square miles.
To reduce operational costs from personnel and equipment and rein in future insurance and pension obligations, Barrington has opted to focus on its five-square-mile territory. The protection district, which decided to terminate the agreement effective Jan. 1, 2014 will continue to serve 46 square miles in the surrounding communities.
With the 7-0 vote Monday, Barrington trustees put an end to months of emotional debate by making official a plan to start next year with a department of 19 firefighter-paramedics.
“The new staffing plan costs a little more than minimal staffing, but that will be money well spent if it provides additional services and increases public safety in Barrington,” said Village President Karen Darch in a statement after the vote. “However, in the long term, we are removing a major burden from taxpayers — the burden of paying skyrocketing pension and disability payments for employees that have served outside our community.”
At the July 15 Village Board meeting, Barrington trustees received a presentation outlining two staffing plans. Bill Balling, consultant for the Barrington Fire Department, detailed the financial costs of a 16-member department, resulting in 22 layoffs, versus 18 department personnel, which would result in 20 layoffs.
He noted an $80,000 difference in annual costs between the options. Trustees ultimately decided to go with a staff of 19, with 19 layoffs.
“With enhanced EMS service, we are better equipped to respond to our most frequent calls for service — those that come from residents in need of emergency medical attention,” said Barrington Fire Chief Jim Arie. “Instead of relying on response from miles away, we can dispatch a second ambulance right from our own firehouse. This means we can get help to where it’s needed faster and reduce response times when we have overlapping calls.”
Before trustees made their decision Monday, several residents and stakeholders pleaded with the board to reconsider.
Char McLear, a retired assistant fire chief in Barrington, called the move an arrogant and self-serving attack on the fire department.
“This is the real world and there is no room for politics,” McLear said. “This is politics, not fiscal responsibility.
“I’m outraged at your irresponsible actions in regards to the fire department. We in this village have to live with the ramifications of your decision.”
Former Trustee Beth Raseman urged the board to find a way to move forward with the protection district.
“I know this is an emotional and difficult subject, but you are a family when you work together,” she said. “I think the best way to move forward is to try to work together.”
Larry Lincoln told trustees that the split would make it impossible for local firefighters and paramedics to respond to more than one cardiac emergency at a time.
Longtime protection district firefighter Art Thompson agreed that the split will result in staff levels that are too low.
In response to the layoffs, the protection has expressed an interest in hiring as many laid off Barrington emergency responders as possible through its contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois, a private company. However, those hired by PSI face the possibility of working outside their current pension plans.
In explaining the staffing decisions, Darch noted that keeping 18 personnel on staff would cost the village about $80,000 more a year above the fire department’s planned budget for 2014. She added that the extra two firefighters would, however, give the department more flexibility.
Personnel would operate out of Fire Station 1 on three shifts, each with a dedicated shift commander.
Village officials began discussing the separation in 2012 amid disagreements with the district regarding the hiring of additional personnel and the purchase of new equipment.
Balling’s report for the Barrington Fire Department, released July 15, was based on incident coverage, station availability and location, operational staffing, apparatus and mobile equipment, and automatic and mutual aid agreements.