Lake Forest, Highland Park, Lake Bluff and Highwood are expected to form a task force in early 2013 to study ways to save money through collaboration — including the consolidation of fire protection and emergency medical services for their 60,000 residents.
Going with the national trend of consolidation could save the four communities between $1 million and $1.8 million annually, according to a study by the International City/County Management Association.
Lake Forest dispatches its own fire/EMS and police, and on contract dispatches Lake Bluff’s 100-year old volunteer fire department, as well as providing ambulance service to Lake Bluff.
Highwood contracts with Lake Forest for police dispatch and goes through Regional Emergency Dispatch (RED) in Northbrook for fire/EMS. Highland Park, with nearly 2,000 fire/EMS calls annually, dispatches all of its public safety calls.
Another option would be to contract with an existing universal dispatch center, such as Northbrook’s Regional Emergency Dispatch, and a third option would be housing dispatch for fire, EMS and police under one roof, Irvin said.
Leonard Matarese, director of research and project development at the ICMA Center for Public Safety Management, analyzed the four jurisdictions’ fire and EMS needs.
“The longtime premise nationally has been to have same level staffing, 24/7, for fire and EMS, but the realization over the last five years (globally) is that workloads and service demands have peaks and valleys,” he said. “Analyzing services workloads and calls convinced fire prevention officials in England over a decade ago to allocate staff based on time of day and days of the week. Typically, fires and EMS calls occur during the day and slow down by 9 or 10 at night.”
The ICMA study suggests there are three alternatives related to firefighting and emergency medical services:
“Functional consolidation,” which involves cooperation across jurisdictions for a common service, but the four departments remain separate entities.
“Operational consolidation” maintains a legal separation, but the four departments join operations and administration to function as a single agency.
“Full consolidation” merges four fire departments into a single entity, in which jurisdictional boundaries “become invisible” and all service demands become single functions of the department.
The ICMA projects the functional and operational alternatives could save members between $950,000 and $1.5 million annually; with full consolidation savings between $1.4 million and $1.95 million.
“It’s typically political, financial, labor contracts and retirement systems that are major issues,” said Matarese. “But these four cities are already at a certain level of sharing, cooperation and functional consolidation. Also, they do some joint purchasing and standardizing of equipment.”
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