Daily file photo by Colin Boyle
Aldermen on Monday spoke out against the proposed closure of Evanston Fire Department Station 4, citing concerns over increased response times throughout the city.
The closure of the station was included in the city’s first draft of its budget for fiscal year 2019. The budget, which seeks to fill a projected $7.4 million deficit, was released at the beginning of October and includes a number of expense reductions and revenue increases.
Included in the budget is a $1.2 million cut to EFD, which contains the elimination of nine staff positions, the proposed station closure and the resulting elimination of its fire engine. Station 4 — located at 1817 Washington St. — is in the 2nd Ward and services the southwest region of Evanston.
Since the budget was first released, residents, aldermen and firefighters have voiced their opposition to the proposal, citing concerns of increased response times. Evanston Fire Chief Brian Scott told The Daily that if the station were to close, he fears the result would be a “cascade effect” throughout the city.
“I would always caution the Council in looking at the fire department as a production-type model,” Scott said at Monday’s meeting. “What we need to look at is its resiliency. … Certainly, the number of fires we go to isn’t a lot compared to the overall calls we respond to, but when those fires occur, we need the requisite amount of people.”
Scott said the response times in the area currently served by Station 4 would generally increase by around 50 percent, if all on-duty firefighters in the area are available and in station. The current response time in Evanston is on average three minutes and 15 seconds, well below the national average of four minutes.
The closure, Scott said, would add roughly one to two minutes of response time to calls.
On Monday, aldermen overwhelmingly opposed the possible station closure, once again referring to the increased response times and also pointing out the fact that many residents rely on firefighters — who in Evanston are cross-trained as paramedics and whose vehicles are supplied with medical equipment — for medical care.
EFD’s call volume has increased by 51 percent over the past 35 years, and Scott said he expects it to increase by 2 percent per year moving forward.
Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said she knows the city has to “find a way to deal with the budget but it shouldn’t be on the backs of police and fire.”
Mayor Steve Hagerty said the budget process has been thorough and difficult, and that because of the deficit, aldermen and city staff have to make hard decisions.
“No one wants to close the station,” Hagerty said. “But we also know that something has to give.”
Council members will look at an updated budget proposal on Nov. 12, before voting on the final budget later this year.
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