Posts Tagged Elgin to cut fire department staffing

Elgin Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

The Elgin fire union president says overtime staffing cuts caused a delayed response and gap in water supply to a fire in which a 63-year-man died last month.

David Moncatch died Jan. 21 when heating tape caused a fire at his trailer home on the 400 block of Sadler Avenue. Officials at first said Moncatch died of smoke inhalation, but an autopsy showed he died of a heart attack, International Association of Firefighters Local 439 President Joe Galli said. Moncatch was found in the kitchen, apparently trying to get a fire extinguisher. Two dogs also died.

Fire Chief Dave Schmidt defended the department’s response, saying the first engine arrived two minutes after the call, and 15 firefighters arrived within eight minutes of travel time, the standard set by the National Fire Protection Association. A total of 23 firefighters responded.

At the center of the dispute is how long it took the second engine to arrive and hook up to the hydrant about 150 feet from Moncatch’s home. When the second engine arrived, nearly nine minutes after the initial call, the first engine had run out of water — the first time in recent memory that’s happened, Galli and Schmidt agreed.

The radio recording shows a one-minute gap between firefighters reporting they were out of water and saying water was beginning to pump from the hydrant. Galli said firefighters told him the actual gap was longer. “We are in a business where seconds count,” he said. Firefighters were about to enter the trailer when the water ran out, so they opted to enter after they had water.

The staffing cut enacted Jan. 11 means there are 31 firefighters — two fewer than last year — and a battalion chief on duty at all times across the city’s seven fire stations.

A structure fire calls for three engines, one ladder truck, one ambulance, and more vehicles based on the severity of the fire. The first engine arrived from Station 5 at 804 Villa St. and started fighting the fire. Moncatch’s home is behind the station.

Before the staffing cut, the second engine and ladder truck — if not on another call — would have come from Station 1 at 550 Summit St., two miles away. The staffing cut, however, makes it so crews there jump between the engine or truck. The truck Jan. 21 came from Summit Street, and the second engine came from Station 4 at 599 S. McLean Blvd., nearly four miles away, because the next-closest engine at Station 6 was out on a call.

If the second engine had come from Summit Street, it would have arrived in time to have a continuous water supply, Galli said. “We weren’t able to send the closest engine because of our staffing model. And because of that, we will never know what could have been.”

Firefighting entails juggling the unpredictability of calls, such as the one the engine from Station 6 was on when the fire at Moncatch’s home took place, Schmidt said. “It’s not an exact science, because in any given day, in excess of 50 percent of the time we are running multiple calls,” he said.

Schmidt also pointed out the ladder truck from Summit Street arrived just one minute before the second engine. The second engine that day “was still close enough. It was a respectable response time,” he said.

The cuts are estimated to save $750,000 per year. The union argued the cut would affect the safety of firefighters and residents, and the matter is expected to be decided in arbitration.

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Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

Elgin Fire Department shift staffing cuts took effect Thursday following a court ruling against the Elgin Association of Firefighters Local 439, which claimed the changes would put first-responders firefighters at risk of injury.

Judge David Akemann issued an order ruling in the city’s favor late Wednesday afternoon. The ruling denies the 130-member fire union’s motion for a preliminary injunction regarding the shift staffing changes, which were the result of cuts to the city’s 2018 budget. Akemann also canceled a court hearing on the matter scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

In the complaint, the union argued, “If the city reduces shift staffing, the union predicts that the number of injuries will increase significantly,” and Akemann wrote that the union had not shown irreparable injury that would necessitate the intervention of this Court.

The lawsuit followed the Elgin City Council’s Dec. 20 approval of a $259 million budget. The budget includes $700,000 in cuts to fire department overtime by reducing two positions per shift. 

The union filed its case Dec. 22 and staffing levels remained as they were until Thursday. Elgin uses a staffing model that relies on overtime to fill fire department shifts to limit costs such as insurance and pension benefits.

Galli said that firefighters will be learning how to adapt to the changes as they go along.

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Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

Elgin Association of Firefighters Local 439 has filed a grievance with the city and a lawsuit in Kane County to stop the city from cutting staffing levels until an arbitrator makes a decision.

The firefighters union says decreasing staffing from 34 to 32 firefighters per shift — a move approved by the city council to save $700,000 in overtime costs starting in 2018 — would cause irreparable harm to firefighters and pose significant risk to residents.

City officials dispute that, saying the proposed cut is all about efficiency.

The union filed the grievance Dec. 21. As per its contract, grievances first are filed with an assistant fire chief. The union then can appeal a negative response to the fire chief, then to the city manager, and then take it to arbitration.

The union also filed a lawsuit and emergency motion for a temporary restraining order on Dec. 22 in Kane County seeking to maintain staffing levels until the issue is decided in arbitration. The city agreed Tuesday in court to wait until Jan. 3, when the matter will be heard by a judge.

The cut would reduce on-shift staffing to 33 firefighters and a battalion chief across seven fire stations, with no layoffs. Stations 1 and 2 would go from six to five firefighters per shift, with a change in how jump companies operate.

Crews at those two fire stations currently jump between an ambulance and ladder truck depending on the call. Under the change, two firefighters would staff an ambulance and three would jump into either an engine or truck.

That would increase by two the ambulances available full-time. The fire service has changed and roughly 75 percent of calls are for ambulance services, Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said earlier this month.

Union officials claim data shows firefighters’ injuries have increased since 2005, when the department switched to a high-overtime model. Data verified from the city’s risk management department shows that is not true, and that the discrepancy is due to methodology and will be addressed moving forward.

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Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from an opinion piece at

Elgin City Councilman Rich Dunne, a former fire marshall, earlier this month argued against a proposed cut of $700,000 from the fire department budget. While he lost that vote 7-2, the mayor agreed that more discussion is needed on how to fund the department.

The cut, which would not involve the layoff of any firefighters but would come from overtime, was necessary, the mayor said, and part of an effort to realign the staffing of our fire department to meet the current needs of the community, which show that over 80 percent of our calls for service are now for ambulances.

“The changes in staffing are consistent with the results of the recent community survey and the desire for prompt ambulance service. The residents should not see a significant reduction in service,” he said.

The city council’s decision to go with the reduction of overtime is in keeping with the need to cut expenses for the city. Yet, the mayor is asking for further discussion about fire department funding, saying the cut is not a good fix.

“We will continue to meet the needs of the community in the future by providing state of the art equipment, training and adequate staffing to make certain our residents receive the highest quality service available,’ the mayor said.

The concerns expressed by Dunne are valid. With the firefighters’ contract ending Dec. 31, there’s a need for more consideration of the issues.

It will be important for the city council to come up with a plan that will address all funding issues of the fire department that do not negatively affect the safety of residents. It is imperative that public discussions take place to insure the best possible fire protection services in Elgin.

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Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

Elgin trustees gave unanimous approval to a $259 million budget this week that increases taxes on gasoline and hotel stays, raises ambulance fees, and cuts staffing at the fire department.

The plan doubles the hotel/motel tax to 8 percent and adds a four-cents per gallon fuel tax at Elgin gas stations. It also increases water and sewer rates by 7 and 8 percent respectively. The city sales tax will increase from 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. The average Elgin household will see a bump in property taxes to fund police and fire pensions, as well as for bond payments.

Staffing changes at the fire department would reduce overtime by reducing the number of firefighter/paramedics on shift at any one time, saving $1 million annually, city officials said. Increasing ambulance fees — charged only to non-residents — is expected add an additional $1 million in revenue.

The biggest financial change for Elgin may be the reduction in money collected from the Grand Victoria Casino, said Council Member John Steffen. “That was 23 years of revenue we were able to invest in the community. That is coming to an end.”

When the riverboat money began rolling in in 1994, it helped Elgin pull out of an economic depression the city had experienced.

While the board also voted to end its agreement with the Elgin Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, that organization will be renegotiating its agreement with the city in coming months.

The budget had originally called for discontinuing its funding of the agency, which markets Elgin to visitors. However, after learning the city would also then lose matching state funding, the move was made to instead doubling the hotel/motel tax.


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Elgin Fire Department news (more)

Excerpts from the

The Elgin City Council agreed this week to double its hotel tax and keep measures in place to reduce the number of firefighters per shift from 34 to 32.

The initial budget proposal would have raised the hotel tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, adding about $1.39 to the average room rental. It also would have eliminated the city funding for the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Elgin city manager said that statements by council members indicated they wanted to find a way to continue to fund the bureau. So he suggested raising the tax a total of 8 percent, which would add close to $3 per night per room and bring in an additional $240,000.

Elgin has been funding the Elgin Area Convention and Visitors Bureau since the 1980s, with money from a hotel/motel tax and a matching grant from the state. The bureau will receive about $212,500 from Elgin’s tax in 2017.

The proposed budget also posits $700,000 savings in fire department overtime by reducing two positions per shift, from 34 to 32 firefighters required to fill positions. The savings would be realized without the need to lay off firefighters by restructuring how 32 shift firefighters are deployed for service calls, according to the budget document.

This would reduce the number of shift positions from six to five at Station 1 on the east side and Station 2 to operate a jump company. The new staffing model will increase the incidence of ambulances available for EMS calls which is the overwhelming majority of fire department activity the document states.

Council member and former Elgin Firefighter Rich Dunne said the move could negatively affect the city’s Insurance Service Office rating and could increase the time needed to form teams to fight fires or handle other emergencies. Dunne said the reduction could affect the safety of the public as well as firefighters. The department already is down 12 positions in the last 10 years and is doing more with less.

To make up the $700,000, Dunne suggested that the city could bill businesses for fire alarm service, lease equipment instead of purchasing it, and consider allowing a proposal made by Elgin Association of Firefighters IAFF Local 439 for firefighters to get their health insurance through the Illinois Firefighters Association. He claimed the moves would cover the $700,000 gap.

The council voted down adopting Dunne’s proposals as part of the 2018 budget by a 7-2 margin. 

The mayor said he has concerns about the continued use of overtime to fill fire department shifts, a policy in place for 15 years in the hopes it would save money by not having the legacy costs related to hiring more full-time employees.

The budget discussions continue at 9 a.m. Saturday at City Hall. The public is invited to comment on the proposed $259 million 2018 budget and the 2018-2020 financial plan. Final approval is set to happen Dec. 20. The document can be viewed online at

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