March 11, 2021
Contact: Jim Grabowski, City Manager, 630-530-3000
Public Safety and Affairs Committee Reviews Emergency Response Services
The Public Safety and Affairs (PA&S) Committee of the City Council continued their review of the City of Elmhurst’s emergency response performance at the meeting on Monday, March 8, 2021. As a continued discussion to previous meetings, City staff members and the City Attorney presented on this topic. The discussion was based on a referral for the committee to review how the City is providing public safety services by looking for an efficient way to provide improved public safety service.
Deputy Chief Bill Anaszewicz provided an update on the fire department’s operations. This included a report on current themes, the department’s emergency response time, a review of incident types, statistics on mutual aid, fire and EMS personnel and apparatus, as well as salary and pension costs for full-time firefighters compared to contract paramedics. Deputy Chief also noted that the department currently exceeds expectations for NFPA recommended response times and has received several awards for their quality of service.
Highlighted in the discussion was the City’s recent purchase of an ALS Rapid Response vehicle (a.k.a. Rescue 1). The service was added to the department’s fleet in 2017 after discussion of improving the City’s emergency response time. Rescue 1 was put into service to reduce the amount of time it took to initiate mutual aid ALS care. Mutual aid is when Elmhurst residents receive a response from a surrounding community’s medics. This only happens 4% of all calls. Rescue 1 is a smaller, more maneuverable vehicle that is able to move through town easier than a fire engine or larger ladder truck. It is equipped with and mirrors every piece of ALS equipment carried in an ambulance. The vehicle is dedicated to the City of Elmhurst and does not leave its boundaries. Rescue 1 moves back and forth between North and South fire stations and provides a second layer of coverage when the primary ambulance is dispatched to a call. Rescue 1 continues to provide superior care to our residents without having an impact on the overall budget. In November of 2020, Fire Chief Tom Freeman issued a memo to City Council stating, “As for 911 calls for emergency medical services since the implementation of Rescue 1, more than 98% of the time an Advance Life Support Medic or Rescue 1 arrived prior to a fire suppression apparatus and its personnel. This compares to 2016 statistics when Advance Life Support Medics arrived prior to Fire Suppression Personnel 72% of the time.”
The City currently contracts paramedic services through Metro Paramedics which has provided the residents of Elmhurst with award winning safety services for over 40 years. This service has allowed the City to be being fiscally responsible without jeopardizing service quality. Paramedics are staffed full time without overtime or pension obligations. The company also provides billing and processing services.
The Committee discussed the implications of the Elmhurst Fire Department becoming an ALS fire company and the possible complications. If the Elmhurst Fire Department became an ALS fire company, it would have to have medics on staff at all times and would have to equip engines with ALS supplies.
City Attorney Mike Durkin discussed the certainty that would occur if the department became an ALS fire company. There would be an obligation to bargain with the fire union.
Attorney Durkin explained that a great deal of uncertainty would accompany the scope of that bargaining. The State of Illinois statute provision, commonly referred to as "the substitute clause” was further illustrated with a legal proceeding involving the City of Mattoon, Illinois. Attorney Durkin stated that the City of Elmhurst could risk a ruling from the Illinois Labor Board or court that would force the city to enter into labor negotiations over the existing Metro Paramedics, Inc contract. Not being able to predict an outcome of that, the city could risk voiding the contract, and be forced to hire replacement firefighter/paramedic employees who would be subject to the collective bargaining agreement, including pension and health care benefits. A total of 21 new firefighter/paramedics would need to be hired and the City would have to purchase and equip 3 ALS ambulances. The estimated initial cost of this is $3.4 million, of which ALS equipment itself is a fraction. The annual cost could exceed $2.5 million.
Committee members further discussed the potential costs and pension obligations if the City changed the structure of services.
“There are more underlying costs here other than a one-to-one comparison,” states PA&S Committee Chair, Dannee Polomsky. “I cannot think of another potential cost increase of this magnitude that we have entertained, other than the stormwater capital projects.”
Committee Members agreed that they take pride and are thankful for the highly rated services that Elmhurst Firefighters and Metro Paramedics provide to the community while being fiscally responsible, especially during these trying times. Chair Polomsky will be providing an interim update to the City Council in this topic. The PA&S Committee will continue to discuss this referral at the next meeting. The safety of Elmhurst residents is the top priority of the City Council.