Wasn't sure if any of you were aware of what has been going on in Springfield the past few weeks.

posted from www.sj-r.com

The city of Springfield might have to lay off a dozen firefighters and shutter one of its 12 firehouses if aldermen find no other solution to the city's $6 million-plus budget crisis.
But statistics on fire calls won't give city officials much help if they decide to close a firehouse.

Analyzing the issue by looking at the locations of each firehouse could prove difficult, too. Some are close to residential areas, some serve commercial property, some are in high-call areas and some are the only firehouse in their area of town.

"There are lots of things that would contribute to a decision like that. Each firehouse has its own distinctions," said Deputy Division Chief Bob Bartnick, spokesman for the Springfield Fire Department.

In 2002, the Insurance Services Office, an arm of the insurance industry, advised the department to either hire more personnel or to close two firehouses - Station No. 4 at 1900 E. Converse Ave. and Station No. 7 at 1428 S. Glenwood Ave.

But people who live near those two firehouses say they don't want to see their stations close and they will battle any plans to do so.

"We would fight it tooth and nail," said Anne Craig, president of the Hawthorne Place Neighborhood Association, a group that was born after the city considered closing the Glenwood station in 1997 and neighbors united. "We would be ready to fight it."

Although no specific firehouses have been identified in budget discussions so far, closing one of the stations is part of Mayor Tim Davlin's budget plan. He said Friday there is a real possibility cuts will be made within the fire department and that the cuts could lead to the closure of a firehouse.

"If this budget is approved with six votes, it's very realistic. It's not realistic. It's gospel."

But that decision won't be made until after March 1 when the city's new budget will go into effect.

Fire Chief Ron Hasara opposes the proposed cuts. In fact, at a budget hearing before the police and fire committee of the city council Wednesday, Hasara presented a "wish list" - actually, he said later, it wasn't a wish list as much as a list of items the department seriously needs - that included an additional firehouse, a new engine and 12 additional firefighters.

But Davlin said Friday nothing will be added to his budget proposal unless something else is cut.

"I presented a balanced budget," he said. "At the very end, there will be a balanced budget."

According to 2003 statistics, the fire stations with the fewest runs were No. 11, 1805 Toronto Road, with 542 calls; No. 10, 2401 Peoria Road, with 695; No. 12, 2925 Koke Mill Road, with 807; and No. 7, the Glenwood station, at 861.

In 2002, the same four stations in the same order - Nos. 11, 10, 12 and 7 - had the fewest calls. Ranking fifth was Station No. 3, 801 North Grand Ave. W.

About two-thirds of the calls firefighters respond to are medical emergencies, not fires.

But many of the stations that respond to the fewest calls have unique qualities that make them less obvious candidates for closure.

For instance, Station No. 12 on Koke Mill is the newest house, built in 1996, and is the only one that far west. Station No. 11, the Toronto Road firehouse, is farther south than any other station.

The Peoria Road station, No. 10, is on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. It not only is the northernmost firehouse in the city, but it also contracts with the state for fire protection.

Simply looking on a map makes it difficult, too. There are several within the city that look like they might be considered, including No. 7 on Glenwood and Station No. 9, 2405 Chatham Road.

But Bartnick said the Chatham Road firehouse is near a lot of commercial property, with White Oaks Mall and other shopping areas just down Wabash Avenue, the Yard shopping center within view and several large grocery stores and other commercial buildings nearby.

Bartnick happened to be stationed at No. 7 in 1997 when then-Mayor Karen Hasara considered closing the Glenwood station, throwing neighborhood residents into an uproar.

“It was a coverage situation,” Bartnick said. “That was the main factor for that, and that’s because they looked at it on a map. You never want to lose a station, but that was probably the one that may have best absorbed it. Since it’s centrally located, the companies wouldn’t have to run (far) to get there.”

But Hawthorne Place’s Craig said No. 7 has its own advantages.

“Having a firehouse right in the neighborhood - there’s no substitute for proximity when there’s a fire in your home,” she said.

“The older homes in the area are a tremendous concern. First of all, you can’t buy (insurance) coverage to replace these homes. I tried. Secondly, the homes are more prone to being a fire hazard than newer homes because the materials are older, the wiring is out of date, they don’t have firewalls …”

David Wysocki, Grandview village president, said he also would have serious concerns if the city considered closing Station No. 4 at 19th Street and Converse.

“It would not be good at all. It’s not something we’d be happy with,” Wysocki said, pointing out that personnel from that firehouse can provide emergency services for medical aid that is more specialized than Grandview’s own police can supply.

“We pay for fire protection. That doesn’t mean our fire protection should be provided from 25 miles away,” he said.

“It’s not my business to tell (Davlin) how to do his job or his business to tell me how to do mine. But there are other considerations to be made before cutting off the people in our village, Indian Hills or Northgate.”

Sarah Antonacci can

be reached at 788-1529 or sarah.antonacci@sj-r.com.