By Dave Reynolds
PEORIA – For Peorians Dave Weidner and Lynn Martin, the City Council’s recent vote to decommission Far North Peoria Fire Station 20 is a personal one. Both were among a gathering of about 50 city firefighters and concerned citizens Sunday afternoon showing their support in a social media-driven protest near Station 20 on Wilhelm Road. Many displayed signs such as “Rescue our fire stations” and “We support public safety” and held out hope that the city would reconsider its decision to close both Station 20 and Station 4 in South Peoria.
Weidner’s teenage son, Micah, was sitting in his room last February at the family home on Forsythe Road in Northwest Peoria when his heart stopped. Luckily, his younger brother, Daniel was nearby and called 911 immediately. A Northmoor Fire Station 16 crew arrived minutes later and administered electric shock treatments to Micah. “They brought him back,” Dave Weidner said. “I shudder to think what would’ve happened if they hadn’t gotten there so quickly. I’m really impressed by all of those guys.”
While the Northmoor station is not at risk to be shuttered, Weidner came to Sunday’s event because the closing of No. 20 places more burden on the closer stations of Northmoor – and Detweiller No. 15 – to man the burgeoning population boom in the city’s Far North side.
For Martin, a Far North Peoria resident whose husband, Josh, is a firefighter at Station No. 10, it was the No. 20 crew that came to her young sons’ rescue after they suffered seizures and were unresponsive. “The guys were at our house in minutes,” she said. “Until you’ve been in that situation where you’re so helpless and scared, you don’t realize how important these men and women are to the community. To hear they’re going to close the station and the times it would take in an emergency could double or triple because (firefighters) are coming from farther away, it’s unacceptable. We’re very upset.”
A total of 22 firefighter positions are scheduled to be eliminated by Oct 1. Since 14 spots are currently vacant, eight more layoffs would be coming within the department.
Far North Peoria resident Jillian O’Dell organized Sunday’s protest and was pleased with the turnout. She was also encouraged by all the honking vehicles passing by the intersection of Allen and Wilhelm Roads where the gathering took place. “I just want the City Council and our mayor to realize the lives that are at stake with their decision and find another way to balance the budget,” O’Dell said. “By threatening an increase in taxes, that’s not the way to do it. If they want to increase the taxes, they should find another way and not put our public safety at risk.”
For Jane Scheuermann, who lives nearby with her husband, Ted, it’s about more than fire protection. “It’s also very important for medical protection and accidents,” she said. “It takes a long time for the ambulances to get to our place and the firefighters can get there in less than five minutes. This area is growing like crazy. This is the last station that should be cut.”
Ted Scheuermann was disturbed by what he perceived as mixed messages from City Hall. “The reason they cut the stations was to save money so they wouldn’t have to raise taxes,” he said. “The very next meeting they’re talking about raising taxes anyway. Now who’s lying to who? We need new leadership in this city.”
Another local resident, Tom Hunt, said the issue goes beyond politics. “This is about public safety,” he said. “This is one of the fastest growing areas of the city and we need services. There are other ways to solve this issue besides raising taxes.”
Dave Reynolds can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at davereynolds2.