Firefighter Gabriel Williams logs a lot of miles to and from work.
The drive from his Racine, Wis., home to the fire station in Huntley – a more than 140-mile round-trip commute – takes him about 90 minutes each way.
He thought about moving closer to his full-time job at the Huntley Fire Protection District, but his wife wanted to remain near her family, which lives in Kenosha, Wis.
His commute avoids the morning and afternoon rush hours, and his shifts
consists of 24 hours on and 48 hours off, making the lengthy drive almost therapeutic for the 32-year-old Round Lake Beach native.
“I’m on the road before anyone is even awake, and after working a 24-hour shift, the drive home gives me a chance to unwind,” Williams said. “Getting a job as a full-time firefighter is very competitive. I had to force myself to get used to the drive.”
Part of the reason Williams applied in Huntley more than a year-and-a-half ago was the fact the district has no residency requirements, which allows for more candidates during the testing process.
However, several local police and fire departments have residency rules in place for those who are hired in an attempt to respond quickly to emergency situations, a mixed bag of policies that sometimes includes nautical miles from the station, road boundaries or neighboring counties.
“There’s really no right or wrong answer as to whether or not to have residency rules,” said James Moore, Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department chief and president of the McHenry County Fire Chiefs Association. “It really comes down to staffing models, and whether or not you rely on full- or part-time personnel.”
Crystal Lake recently expanded its boundaries as part of its residency rules for fire personnel. The staff consists mainly of full-time personnel.
All bargaining unit members, after completion of a probationary period, are required to live in McHenry County or Boone, Lake, Cook, Kane, DuPage and DeKalb counties to the west; Route 38 to the south; and the Illinois-Wisconsin border to the north.
The requirement was put in place to provide efficient and effective response time to emergency situations, the policy reads. Those who don’t meet the requirement within a year could be disciplined or fired.
Crystal Lake also requires paramedic certification at the time of hire. Other departments allow that certification to be earned during employment.
“We had to expand residency to get a larger pool of candidates,” Moore said. “This doubled the pool we were previously pulling from.”
The requirements for officers of the Crystal Lake Police Department include having to live within 25 nautical miles of the station, located at 100 W. Woodstock St. Members of the command staff – the chief, deputy chief and two commanders – also are afforded take-home vehicles.
“We have to be able to respond on a 24-hour basis,” police Cmdr. Dan Dziewior said. “This gives us a better presence on the streets, and gives us a chance to respond to a major incident without having to come back to the station first.”
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office has guidelines based on what unit an employee falls under. The sheriff, an elected position, is required to live in the county and also has a take-home vehicle.
Some vehicles come at no cost to the county, such as the use of a vehicle seized during an arrest, Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. That also costs less in monthly gas expenses and repairs than providing the employee a per diem for travel.
Deputies can live in any Illinois contiguous county, but must live in McHenry County or have a specialty assignment in order to have a take-home squad car. Any other personnel provided take-home cars negotiated it as a part of their contract with the county.
Corrections personnel, administrative staff and courthouse security can live in any contiguous county, including Wisconsin. There are no restrictions for non-union office administration.
Residency rules are something the McHenry Township Fire Protection District has assessed over the years.
Previously, in order to get a sufficient number of candidates that were also paramedics, there were no residency rules, Deputy Chief Rudy Horist said. As time has gone on, those hired as part-time firefighters now must live within the district, but there are no requirements for full-time staffers, which include battalion chiefs, secretaries and coordinators.
The McHenry and Huntley police departments, as well as the Huntley Fire Protection District, do not have residency rules.
The Woodstock Police Department has boundaries in place, including Route 39 to the west and Route 72 to the south, to name a few. The union currently is negotiating a new contract with the city.