by: Dana Rebik
February 9, 2021
ELGIN, Ill. – A loss of revenue is threatening public safety in the Northwest suburbs. Angel Martinez, an Elgin resident, says he recently moved to the city because the fire department was nearby. “It’s nice to see them and they do an excellent job,” he said. “I can hear them. They’re not too far.”
He won’t be hearing the sirens as often as the fire department faces a $430,000 budget cut. “The idea is to brown out a fire suppression apparatus, which is an engine at this station and move two people over to an ambulance,” said Joe Galli, IAFF 439 president. The move would mean the city’s main engine, Engine Six, would be out of service for 280 days, three-fourths of the year. Last year, Engine Six responded to 3,000 calls. “The call volume annually goes up and up 3% annually the land we cover is growing more houses being built and the services are getting cut and cut,” Galli said.
Elgin City Manager Richard Kozal says, “the city is facing an $11 million shortfall in the 2021 budget resulting from declining revenue streams and state-mandated fire and police pension payments. The proposed 2021 budget demonstrates a balanced budget despite this significant deficit, and it does so without increasing property taxes or fees.” The firefighters were asked to defer for one year their 2.5 percent salary increases scheduled for 2021, but are refusing to do so. The city is now considering action to reduce fire department expenses because the firefighters insist on taking raises.
Station 6 is not being closed under any circumstances nor is any firefighter being laid off.
Station 6 does not have an ambulance and instead uses a fire engine to respond to the ambulance calls that comprise the overwhelming majority of its activity in a given year. A cost savings proposal being considered will reduce overtime by simply replacing the fire engine at Station 6 with an ambulance on days in which overtime is necessary. The cost savings through the reduction of overtime occurs because an ambulance requires a two-person crew while the fire engine requires three. Station 6, the City’s most centrally located station, is supported with fire fighting apparatus coverage from the surrounding six other stations in Elgin.
Statement from the City of Elgin
Michael Bero, an Elgin resident, says he isn’t convinced. “It seems like when the city or government has to make some kind of cut, it’s always EMS, fire, or police that have to swallow it, and it’s a real shame,” he said.
The fire department faced staff cuts in 2012 and again in 2018 and lost a fire marshal and training officer position. On any given day between the city’s seven stations, there are only 31 people on duty. “This has been business as usual for the firefighters,” Galli said. “The city makes a unilateral staffing reduction and we pay the price. So does the community.”