Municipalities explore fire, paramedic ties
Joe Pozzo, senior manager with the International City/County Management Association, presents a study on shared fire and paramedic services to officials in Highland Park, Highwood, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff on Dec. 11. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Med
Updated: December 19, 2012 1:42PM
The neighboring towns of Highland Park, Lake Forest, Highwood and Lake Bluff pretty much function as one entity when firefighters and paramedics respond to calls requiring resources from multiple departments.
The municipalities are now taking a look at whether the coordination that results from automatic and mutual aid agreements should be taken a step further. Last week, officials agreed to continue a dialogue on sharing fire and paramedic services after hearing the findings of a two-year study by a group of Washington, D.C.-based consultants.
Consultants from ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, concluded the towns already have achieved a “functional consolidation” because of their automatic and mutual aid agreements.
“All agencies ... respond across jurisdictional boundaries on a regular basis. However, we note that ‘closest-unit response’ is not practiced as efficiently as possible,” they said. The consultants recommended that aid agreements be strengthened with protocols for closest-unit response and that mobile data terminals with vehicle-locator technology be installed in all response vehicles for efficiency in deploying the closest unit.
Moreover, the consultants recommended that fire and emergency communications for the four communities be consolidated at either the Highland Park or Lake Forest communications centers.
The study recommended that an inter-agency task force be convened to further study a consolidation of fire and paramedic services. Options for sharing include an operational consolidation, in which the departments remain legally separate entities but the operations and administration function as one unit.
Under another option, a full consolidation, the four departments would merge and the jurisdictional boundaries of the four communities would become invisible for fire and paramedic services.
Should the municipalities pursue further consolidation, the merger should not lead to fire station closings, because those are well situated to respond to the calls in the four communities, the consultants said.
Any streamlining most likely would occur at the administrative level, where redundancies could be eliminated, consultant Joe Pozzo, research director of ICMA, told public officials last week at the joint meeting at the Highland Park Country Club.
Leaders in the towns say the financial pressures on municipal budgets require they take a fresh look at how services are delivered with an eye on achieving greater efficiencies.
The number of fire and paramedic calls varies dramatically across the four communities. A study of calls showed that Highland Park fielded 4,263 calls compared to 3,149 in Lake Forest, 1,002 in Highwood and 381 in Lake Bluff. Both Highland Park and Lake Forest have departments that are fully accredited through the Center for Public Safety Excellence of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. Lake Bluff is served by a 54-member volunteer department.