Fire truck partnership breach puzzles Oak Park board

Villages selling truck after River Forest opts out of agreement

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Oak Park Fire Chief Thomas Ebsen told the village board he had hoped to come back in a few years asking for a new truck that would be jointly purchased with the Village of River Forest.

Instead, due to a recent decision by River Forest, Oak Park will be purchasing the new truck alone. If the 1999 intergovernmental agreement had been upheld, Ebsen said, they would have gotten a few more years out of the truck, but now that purchase will be bumped up to 2014.

Through the original agreement, Oak Park and River Forest jointly purchased a "quint" aerial fire truck for just over $534,000. The truck was delivered in 2001 and the agreement had a termination date of 2019. Ebsen said the quint, however, would likely have needed to be replaced in 2016. A quint is a fire service apparatus that serves the dual purpose of an engine and a ladder truck.

Under the agreement, Oak Park pays the costs of staffing the truck at all times and responds to any River Forest incidents involving structure fires, smoke in a building, and automatic fire alarms in commercial or educational buildings. Oak Park was also responsible for fuel costs. The 2012 costs alone for the truck operation ran Oak Park $425,000 for a crew of three to staff the truck on a daily basis and roughly $6,000 in fuel.

River Forest paid half the maintenance costs, roughly $16,000, and received the truck on average about 5 percent of the time. Ebsen said there's a misconception that River Forest was paying for a service that it could only use 5 percent of the time. He clarified that River Forest only needed it that amount of time.

In 2012, the quint responded to 79 incidents in River Forest and 1,244 in Oak Park. Only two of the River Forest calls were for structure fires while 73 responses came from automatic fire alarms, primarily at Dominican and Concordia universities. The chief also explained that in 2012, River Forest received the truck 6 percent of the time and paid 3.5 percent of the total annual operating costs.

Ebsen told trustees he didn't understand why River Forest decided to end the partnership.

"We thought the agreement was going well as we had set it up," he said. The shared truck is 12 years old. "If we were still in the agreement, we probably would have gotten a couple more years."

The River Forest village board elected at a meeting in January to spend $650,000 to buy a new quint. This was after both fire chiefs had met to discuss the matter.

Without River Forest in the agreement, a resolution to sell the quint was proposed and approved by the Oak Park village board at Monday's meeting. Trustees unanimously approved the measure after asking a handful of questions.

John Hedges asked what happens to an old quint. Ebsen explained it can go into reserve status, so it's only used when the main front line truck is out for repairs. Otherwise, it's sold, which is what Ebsen recommended.

Trustee Colette Lueck was also puzzled about River Forest's decision.

"They only got 5 percent of the service; now they get 100 percent of the costs," she said.

Ebsen noted that this change won't have an impact on manpower and how Oak Park responds to River Forest incidents. Oak Park will still respond to calls, but there will be changes related to automatic call responses. Oak Park and River Forest have an automatic aid agreement, but it may be a different type of truck sent now to assist.

Oak Park will be looking to purchase a new ladder truck as part of the 2014 budget, but it's undetermined if that truck will be a quint since that costs $100,000 more.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said this will be part of the upcoming budget planning that starts soon.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Doing the Math  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 5:08 PM

Mr. Salzman, I'd rather pay RF a fee to borrow or use their quint...kind of like when RF paid us to use ours. Why not just pay a fee to use RF's quint when we need it?

Adam Salzman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 3:41 PM

The quint is nearly at the end of its useful life. The cost of paying for the quint's maintenance for the next few years PLUS the expense of the new truck / quint, which we were slated to buy in 2016, would have been significantly greater than the expense associated with the course we decided to take, which is simply to move up the 2016 purchase to 2014 so that the village does not have to bear the combined cost of the maintenance and the scheduled purchase. The action we took was the more cost effective option. To "Typical Oak Park" I'd ask the following: Would you spend $500,000.00 on the new truck (which we will have to do anyway) in 2014, or would you rather spend $545,000.00 between 2013 and 2016? That is the issue that was before us.

KR from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 3:03 PM

Yeah, something doesn't add up here. Why can't OP just pay the full maintenance cost (additional $16k/yr) and keep the quint for the rest of its useful life? That's A LOT LESS than buying new equipment.

Typical Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 10:08 AM

So River forest decides that they need their own quint for whatever reason and now Oak Park "has" to buy a new $500k + truck two years early because they are no longer getting $16,000 a year from RF. Makes perfect sense to me.

Tom from Oak Park  

Posted: March 7th, 2013 9:43 AM

Being a firefighter in different community, I appreciate the importance of mutual aid agreements. I also happen to know firefighters on both departments. It is my understanding that neither Oak Park or River Forest's mutual aid agreements or manning levels changed prior to or after the joint purchase. What has River Forest gotten from this deal besides a yearly maintenance cost?

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