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In his proposed 2019 City budget, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz would close Fire Station 4, 1817 Washington St. Not only is this station Evanston’s smallest station, it is the only one serving the southwest side of the City. Closing the station would entail laying off one firefighter/paramedic and re-assigning the other firefighters/paramedics to one of the City’s other stations.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said in a press briefing on Oct. 4 he felt closing the station was justified because it is the smallest one and other fire stations could cover the calls. He also said he felt that, since there is no ambulance at that station, the overall impact of the service cuts would be less than if another station were closed.
The Fire Chief and the firefighters union, Local 742, apparently could not disagree more. Closing a fire station would increase the response time to emergencies, thereby increasing both the risk of injury and death to victims and firefighters and the likelihood of property damage.
Fire Chief Brian Scott in an interview with the RoundTable said he holds the safety of the community as his highest priority. He added that, although he understands the need for a rigorous review of all City departments in a budgetary squeeze, he is opposed to cutting any safety services to the Evanston residents.
“I do not and would not support service cuts to the community,” Chief Scott said.
Closing Station 4 would increase the response times not only to the homes and businesses in southwest Evanston by more than 50% but would also generally increase times to structures in other parts of the City, if a call came to a station where the trucks, engines and ambulance were already deployed, Chief Scott said.
Billy Lynch, President of the union, said, “Local 742 adamantly opposes the closure to Station 4 and personnel reductions in the City’s proposed budget. We are concerned – and every resident of Evanston should be equally concerned – with a proposal that will negatively impact our ability to deliver critical emergency services our residents expect and deserve.
“This proposal immediately compromises the safety of residents in the West End, but inevitably the detrimental ripple effect of a decision like this would be felt in every corner of Evanston.”
Evanston’s Fire and Life Safety Division
There are five fire stations in Evanston’s eight square miles: two on Central Street, one on Emerson Street, one on Madison Street and one on Washington Street. The headquarters is at 909 Lake St., around the corner from but in the same building as the Evanston Police Department.
All five stations are equipped with an engine company; two also have truck companies, and two have ambulances. All the fire engines and fire trucks are equipped with advanced life-safety equipment, Chief Scott said, and the firefighters are also trained paramedics.
Firefighters on a fire engine bring water, hoses and ladders to a fire. Firefighters on a fire truck bring tools such as axes and are in charge of reducing dangers, conducting search-and-rescue operations and taking care of other life-safety issues.
As the busiest Fire Department on the North Shore, the Evanston Fire Department handles more than 10,000 calls each year – about 45% of which are concurrent with other calls. Judging by the past few years, Chief Scott says expects that number will increase by about 2% each year.
Effective Oct. 1, the Evanston Fire Department has a Class 1 rating from the Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) for fire protection services. ISO’s Public Protection Classification review, conducted by expert ISO staff on a five-year cycle, includes evaluating operations, water supply, emergency communications and community risk-reduction efforts. The ranking puts the Evanston Fire Department in the top 1% of the more than 47,000 fire departments across the nation ISO has evaluated.
Evanston’s mix of single-family homes, commercial structures and high-rises pose a mix of hazards, according to NFPA 1710 – low for single-family homes, medium for commercial structures and high for high-rises. The minimum daily staffing for low-hazard structures is 15, 28 for medium-hazard and 43 for high-hazard.
The average response time for the Evanston Fire Department is three minutes, 15 seconds – 45 critical seconds below the four-minute response time of the NFPA 1710.
Closing one station could increase the response time not only to the homes and businesses in southwest Evanston but also to structures in other parts of the City, if a call came to a station where the trucks, engines and ambulance were already deployed, Chief Scott said. Since nearly half of the emergency calls are concurrent with other calls, this cascading effect of tag-team deployment is likely to increase response time and seriously increase the likelihood of injuries and property loss.
Response time is critical, Chief Scott said, in both fire and life-safety emergencies. Many home and commercial furnishings are petro-chemically based, so they are more combustible and they burn hotter than flammable materials in the past. At a certain point – generally in eight to 10 minutes – a fire will flashover, that is spread very rapidly from the room of origin. It is vital that firefighters apply water before flashover to save lives and minimize property damage, he said.
Getting to a fire while it is still in the room of origin can keep human injury and property losses at a minimum. A fire not quickly contained can spread to other rooms in a structure, exposing any people within and firefighters entering the building to greater risk of injury or death.
One NFPA 1710 table shows an average of 2.32 civilian deaths, 35.19 civilian injuries and $3,185 loss of property when a fire is confined to the room of origin. If a fire has spread beyond that room but is confined to the floor of origin, those numbers more than double – 19.7 civilian deaths, 97 civilian injurie and $23,000 in lost property.
Similarly, a quick response to a call about a heart attack can help save a life.
Because all Evanston fire trucks and engines are equipped with advanced life-safety equipment and cross-trained paramedics, the fact that there is no ambulance at Fire Station 4 does not necessarily mean that residents and businesses in the area are already short-changed in medical emergencies, Chief Scott said. Dispatched to a 911 EMS call, firefighters can begin life-saving procedures while an ambulance is on its way. Should Fire Station 4 close, the response time for any fire truck, fire engine or ambulance would increase.
Although Southwest Evanston is near both the Chicago and Skokie borders, it is not reasonable to rely on firefighters in either of those communities to respond immediately to an initial emergency call in Evanston. Fire companies in neighboring communities can help in a multi-alarm fire, but each department is responsible first to the residents of its own community, Chief Scott said.
The firefighters and the Fire Chief are holding firm against the closing of Fire Station 4. Many residents here are similarly opposed to closing the station and cutting services.
Chief Scott stands by the Evanston Fire Department and says he is proud of their record and their professionalism. He also said,
“I am committed to working with the City Council in finding ways the Department can help with the budget in meaningful ways while maintaining our current service levels to the community.
“The staffing model we have had has been both highly efficient and reliable for over 35 years. It is one of the primary reason we are a ISO Class-1 rated department,” he said.
This article as originally posted mistakenly said on several occasions the response time would be reduced rather than increased were a fire station to be closed.