It would serve the Darien, Sharon and Walworth communities

By Michael S. Hoey


A presentation last week offered details about a proposed joint Fire/EMS contracted service agreement with five other municipalities that could provide each with better more reliable service. It was presented at the June 15 Darien Village Board meeting.

Currently the Village and Town of Darien have a joint Fire/EMS department with paid-on-call staff. The proposed agreement would include the villages and towns of both Walworth and Sharon. All six departments use paid-on-call staff and all report difficulties in staffing.

“We want to provide the ability to staff on a consistent and reliable basis,” said Walworth Fire/EMS Chief David Austin.

Austin said paid-on-call “volunteer” firefighters and EMS staff have served the area for over 120 years, but recruiting and retaining volunteers has become increasingly difficult in recent years. That has led to times when departments have been unable to put a legal ambulance crew on the street.

Darien Fire/EMS Chief Justin Schuenke said too many calls go unanswered. When people dial 911, he said, each department may or may not be able to respond and that’s troubling.

Austin said the proposed plan is a joint venture between the three departments and six municipalities to provide paramedic-level ambulance coverage at all times. A six-person “duty crew” would be hired through a third-party provider called Metro Paramedics and housed at the Darien Fire Department because it could best accommodate them.

He said the three departments would continue to operate as they do now and would still need paid-on-call staff. Austin said the duty crew would be available to respond to calls immediately resulting in faster response times. Furthermore, the duty crew would do things when not on calls the volunteers now do in their free time, making being a volunteer more appealing.

Austin said statistics show when departments surpass 700 runs a year, it’s no longer feasible to use paid-on-call staff. Last year there were 744 runs betweem the three departments.

The initial cost for the three-year contract would be just under $477,000 and divided among the municipalities based on equalized property values. The cost to the Village of Darien would be $65,788.

Austin said the departments are asking for a resolution supporting the plan and a referendum in November to fund it. A successful referendum would increase property taxes in the Village of Darien by $63 per $100,000 of property value. He said that’s an affordable price for the service it would provide.

“It is absolutely worth the tax dollars for this. We want to provide a better service for our taxpayers,” Schuenke said.

Village Board member Sheila Stirmel asked how having two staff on duty would solve the staffing problem. Schuenke explained they would be at the station and available to respond to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The board took no action last week. If a referendum question is to appear on the November ballot, the board must approve it by no later than August.


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